'Alexander' unconquered

Staff WriterNovember 24, 2004 

Oliver Stone, that maverick madman, that Peckinpah wannabe, nearly buries his wild-eyed capability in "Alexander." Instead, he gives us a massive biopic that's as pretty and neutered as some of the eunuchs running through this thing.

"Alexander" shows fleeting moments of what could've been, as in the first battle scene, where a young Alexander (Colin Farrell) leads the Macedonian army to defeat the Persian king and his troops. He amps the boys up with a speech that turns their battle cries into lion roars. There's even an eagle flying around for that good ol' Stone symbolism.

Unfortunately, when no one is on the field of battle, "Alexander" turns into a garish, hammy spectacle even Steven Cojocaru couldn't get behind.

The story of Alexander is told, for posterity, by former battle buddy Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins). He begins with early childhood, when as expected, we learn that Alexander was a tortured soul from way back. As a kid, his overbearing, overprotective mama, Olympias (Angelina Jolie), told him he was destined for great things. For crying out loud, he's the son of Zeus, she tells him.

After his brutish, one-eyed daddy, King Philip (Val Kilmer), is assassinated, Alexander inherits the throne, goes on to conquer most of the world and makes his home in Babylon, where the feathered-haired Alexander is treated like a god.

But even gods have responsibilities, and Alexander must keep up his kingly duties, such as marry a girl who can sire a Macedonian heir. Much to everybody's surprise, he chooses a Persian princess (Rosario Dawson, who has nothing else to do except show her breasts). If it were up to Alexander, he'd shack up with good bud Hephaiston (Jared Leto, complete with Juice Newton hair).

All through the movie, they make goo-goo eyes and can't stop saying how much they complete each other. ("You are everything I care for," Hephaiston tells his pal during a deep embrace.) But that's as far as their little crush-with-eyeliner affair goes. Perhaps that's a good thing; the screening I attended was filled with college kids who couldn't stop giggling whenever Farrell and Leto had a moment on-screen. Imagine how they would've reacted if actors got completely hot and heavy.

It doesn't take too long for Alexander to get drunk with power and turn into a nearly insane despot. My bad -- it does take too long. With this film's two-hour and 55-minute length, Stone shows how old-school he wants to movie to look. He harks back to an era of filmmaking when Kubrick and Wyler made extravaganzas. But back in the day, those movies had intermissions. We just have to sit there and just plow through it all -- and there are a lot of things in "Alexander" to plow through.

I don't want to sound too cynical here. There is always the option of enjoying the movie as the hamfest it can't help being (and will probably be seen as in the near future). It seems that practically the entire cast individually decided to take on whatever accent he or she thought would be acceptable during this time. Jolie sounds like a Transylvanian vampire (I kept expecting her to grow fangs and bite Farrell on the neck). Kilmer is basically doing Bill Murray doing Richard Burton. Farrell looks and sounds like some New England lad who just moved to New York's Christopher Street to find true love.

It's understandable why Stone would want to make a movie about Alexander the Great. In Stone's mind, Alexander probably isn't that different from Jim Morrison ("The Doors"), Mickey Knox ("Natural Born Killers") or any of the other Stone protagonists who strive for greatness even when their destiny seems doomed from the jump. But "Alexander" isn't so much an Oliver Stone film as a big, festive pageant with battle scenes.

I don't want to say Oliver Stone punked out big time, but I will say there's nothing more unfortunate than Oliver Stone directing an Oliver Stone film that's not really an Oliver Stone film.

Staff writer Craig D. Lindsey can be reached at 829-4760 or clindsey@newsobserver.com.

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