Monday, February 11, 2008

Across the Universe - out now. (*****5/10)

Across the Universe thinks it is very smart. And in some ways, it is. But in watching it, I was constantly aware of the smug sense of self-satisfaction the people involved obviously felt. The concept of the film is that it is a story that is told through Beatles' songs. That's about it. So what it ends up becoming is a loose and poorly connected collection of related stories, barely adequate acting, and some heavy-handed symbolism and satire. (Example: There is a sign painted on a wall in New York that says Cafe Huh? Get it? Example 2: They sing "Revolution", and as they talk about pictures of Chairman Mao, lo and behold, there's one on the wall. The rooftop concert. Remember when the Beatles did a...never mind.) The characters all have very convenient names for a movie with Beatles songs as its only means of conveying plot. There is a Lucy, a Jude, and Maxwell, Sadie, Prudence and Jojo. Jojo is convenient for the song Come Together, Lucy appears in a sky with diamonds, and Jude...well, obviously. For some reason, Maxwell never goes on a silver-hammer-aided rampage, and that disappointed me a little. I mean, he WAS sent to Vietnam.

In the end, Across the Universe ends up being nothing more than a series of music videos set to Beatles songs, with the occasional staggeringly cheesy my-first-video-editor-kit special effects. And yet, somehow, against all odds, it works. It should not work. I should not enjoy this movie. In fact, I kept kicking myself, over and over, every time I realized I was having a good time watching. Which, at the end of the two-hours-plus run time, left my non-kicking leg extremely bruised. I can't explain it. I really don't understand why it was good. It just was. Bono shows up as a guy in a cowboy hat and a handlebar mustache to lead a rousing rendition of I Am The Walrus. Eddie Izzard, as Mr. Kite, appears in a cartoon music video that looks as though it was shot by the Monty Python animation department. And Salma Hayek shows up in a nurse uniform to do backing vocals on Happiness is a Warm Gun.

In the end, the movie's main failing is that it is WAY too long. This would have been a terrifically entertaining one-hour movie, but at more than two hours, it requires a commitment. Also, the best covers of the Beatles songs come near the beginning - a fantastic version of I Wanna Hold Your Hand, sung by a lovesick lesbian teenager, and a heartbreaking version of Let It Be set during a riot in Detroit. Also great is the take on Revolution. The only moment in the movie where you feel and see the song the way the Beatles intended. Song to skip: I Want You/She's So Heavy. This is painful in that same heavy-handed sort of way. It's a draft board, see, and Uncle Sam is singing I Want You...to join the army...and then the soldiers are singing She's So Heavy while carrying...the Statue of Liberty. You want to scream at the television. Come ON! There are many other songs worth skipping as well. And the dialogue is dreadful. The guy at the unemployment line in England says "I was going to retire when I'm 64." Get it? Or the explanation for the presence of Prudence in the apartment: "She came in through the bathroom window". We GET IT. Now STOP.

I know, it seems like I'm ragging on this movie, and, in point of fact, I am. Nothing about it adds up. It should really be awful, and it IS awful. But somehow, it came together enough to entertain me reasonably for at least an hour. Get it? Came together? Whooo, I could have written this film. I don't know how I could have written a more ambiguous review, but there it is. This movie is terrible. And you might just enjoy it.

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