In the opening minutes of the documentary "Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse" (a must-see, by the way), Francis Ford Coppola is heard saying in voice-over, "My greatest fear is to make a really [expletive], embarrassing, pompous film on an important subject, and I am doing it."
That was in the '70s, and the movie he was talking about was "Apocalypse Now." Of course, we know how that cinematic masterwork turned out. But it looks like Coppola has finally made that really [expletive], embarrassing, pompous film he always feared he would make. And sadly, it's his comeback picture.
Oh man, where do I begin with "Youth Without Youth"? For starters, you have Tim Roth showing up as a suicidal, elderly linguistics professor who gets buzzed with a lightning bolt and reverts to the young man he once was. But not only has this buzz from above jolted his youthfulness back, it's also made him super-intelligent. Yeah, ol' boy doesn't even have to read books anymore; he can just wave his hand over one and -- BOOM! -- instant knowledge. It's also given him a split personality, a devilish, nihilistic doppelgänger who may or may not be killing the seductive Nazi agents out to get him.
Oh, did I forget to mention this movie is set during WWII? Well, if it wasn't, that wouldn't give our extraordinary, sought-after protagonist the chance to lay low throughout Europe, leading a life of secrecy and study, coming up with secret languages only he can decode. He finally comes out from the cold when a girl (Alexandra Maria Lara) who looks a lot like his former love suffers a similar fate, getting hit by lightning and becoming possessed by the spirit of some Sanskrit-speaking mystic named Rupini.
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With a story this double-stuffed and inscrutable, can't you see how it could run away from Coppola?
Overambitious to the point of being insufferable, "Youth" is a saggy Mobius strip covered with two-dollar words and a plot that comes out to even less. By adapting Mircea Eliade's 1976 novella, Coppola wants to craft an elegant yet intelligent, romantic potboiler -- albeit one that's shot in high-def digital video. (It's edited by the great Walter Murch, so it still counts as cinema, fool!) But it's more like watching a David Lynch movie without the Dadaist whimsy. Coppola has said that "Youth" is very personal, and that goes without question. Films that are usually made with more emotion than intellect often come out this gloriously jacked-up.
But perhaps the most truly baffling thing that happens in "Youth Without Youth" is a cameo from Matt Damon -- yes, Jason Flippin' Bourne is in this -- as an American reporter who tries to help out Roth's character. His appearance is superfluous, as he fades into the background as quickly as he materialized. You spend the rest of the movie wondering how Damon could agree to appear in a role so pointless. And you thought his singing with Sarah Silverman in that "I'm [expletive] Matt Damon" Web video was the most insane thing you've seen him do recently.