0.5 stars (out of four)
The poster for “Winter’s Tale” states, “This is not a true story. It’s a love story.” Already we have a problem: Does this mean love stories are inherently fictional? And do the filmmakers really think anyone watching magical horses and human-looking minions of the devil needs to be told it’s a bunch of hooey?
Adapting a 1983 novel by Mark Helprin, writer/first-time feature director Akiva Goldsman (“The Da Vinci Code”) delivers insulting mush wrapped in a twinkly package with skulls drawn on it. Seriously, a cutesy scene of a little girl talking about life-saving kisses precedes a creepy image of a guy with his mouth sewn shut.
This is long after the film has gotten completely out of control. “Tale” opens with voiceover from Beverly (Jessica Brown Findlay of “Downton Abbey”), who says, “What if once upon a time there were no stars in the sky at all?” She suggests that people become stars after death, something we all of course considered a long time ago in “Don’t Eat the Pictures: Sesame Street at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.”
When she meets Peter Lake (Colin Farrell, absurdly playing a 21-year-old) in a scene echoing the contrived romance of “Labor Day,” he’s taken by her beauty. He’s also undeterred by her imminent death from consumption and propensity to actually say things like, “The sicker I become, the more closely I can see that everything is connected by light.” The pair are tracked by a menacing dude named Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe), who watches Peter ride off on the aforementioned winged horse and tells the men standing right beside him, “He’s got the goddamn horse.”
“Winter’s Tale” resembles a melodramatic blend of “The Adjustment Bureau” and “Men in Black,” featuring a cameo that results in two shockingly awful chats between an Oscar nominee and an Oscar winner. Beverly’s dad (William Hurt) must mispronounce “filet,” and Graham Greene has one scene as a wise Native American stereotype. Meanwhile, Crowe rarely enunciates; at times I thought he was saying things like “egg physics” and “fairy sausage.”
Farrell’s chemistry with Findlay puts “Winter’s Tale” on the scoreboard. Otherwise, its increasingly convoluted, unintentionally funny take on destiny inspires disbelief and questions like, “Isn’t it more likely someone has amnesia from being thrown off a bridge than from losing love?”
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