By Greg Popil
After a lifetime of watching movies, a bad one can feel like white noise, a mildly irritating sensation that passes, barely noticed, and is forgotten the moment the discomfort is over. Others can inspire anger, a hateful, vitriolic reaction to a projected point of view that is so completely wrongheaded that watching it feels like bile in your mouth (“Cars 2,” for instance, which imparted the lesson that it’s OK to be an ignorant, uncultured buffoon, and that you should never aspire to improve yourself, because you’re special!). But every once in a great while, you come across a rare beast, an insipid film that manages, at once, to be completely earnest, utterly boring and absolutely, head-slappingly insane. “Winter’s Tale” is such a movie.
The craziness kicks off from the very first scene, in which a young Irish couple and their baby are denied entrance into the United States because of the man’s illness. They’re desperate to keep their son in the United States. So what do they do? Well, the only sensible thing that they possibly could: steal a small model boat from the cabin of their ship and send their son out onto the ocean on the toy boat by himself. This act is depicted by the movie not as a horrifying act of child abandonment and likely murder, but a beautiful leap of faith and belief in the universe’s capacity for miracles. Alas, as this is the late 1800s, the “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” team is not there to intercept the baby when it inexplicably reaches Manhattan and send his parents to a well-deserved prison sentence.
Instead, we cut to about 20 years later, when the now grown Peter (played by the 38-year-old Colin Farrell) has evolved into a Thief With a Heart of Gold, who I can only imagine is a great grandfather of Julia Roberts’ similarly golden-hearted prostitute in “Pretty Woman.” Peter is attempting to avoid a beating at the hands of the awesomely named Pearly Soames (played by Russell Crowe, with an “Oiresh” accent that indicates that he may very well be after me Lucky Charms), a gang leader/agent of Satan. Yes, you read all of that correctly. Peter’s salvation comes at the hands of a magical flying horse that he finds in an alleyway. Have I mentioned that this is still the first 15 minutes of the movie?
From there, we get to the romance of the film. For you see, it is Peter’s destiny to meet a beautiful, perfect woman named Beverly (“Downton Abbey’s” Jessica Findlay), who is, naturally, slowly dying of an incurable disease, but in dying she can now see that everything in the universe is connected and that life is a gift and that everything is perfect and wonderful and a miracle and if you are still reading this paragraph without nodding off you deserve a commendation. They meet while Peter is robbing her father’s safe, and from the moment they lock eyes Farrell conveys his characters’ undying devotion to her by gazing at her with his patented sad basset hound look. She immediately offers him tea. He looks like he would have preferred Alpo.
After Peter rescues Beverly from Pearly and his thugs, they flee north of New York City, where Satan’s minions are not allowed to go, because … (The devil, by the way, is played by a slumming mega star, who inexplicably manages to give one of his finest performances in years in just a couple scenes. One wonders if it might not have been better if he had followed the career path of a character actor, for his reputation if not his wallet). Peter and Beverly continue their sweet, boring romance, and Peter wonders if the power of his love might be enough to cause a miracle that will save her life.
Then Peter screws her to death. No, really.
Now, none of this utter, utter craziness is delivered with even the slightest wink or nod to the audience. First time director Akiva Goldsman, who has written such classics as “Batman and Robin,” “Lost in Space” and both “Da Vinci Code” films, delivers this story with an earnestness that manages to choke this madness down the viewer’s throat with all the dryness of a box of bran flakes. The love scenes, and the climactic fist fight (yes, a movie with all this craziness ends with a simple bout of fisticuffs) are so dully shot that it takes a step back before you realize how bizarre this all is. The second half of the movie, which takes place after a 98-year time jump and features Jennifer Connelly in possibly the most inconsequential role of her career, is so boring it barely merits mention.
All that said, there is no denying that “Winter’s Tale” is an unforgettable experience. Whether or not you actually want to be in the position to have to try and forget it, well, that is entirely up to you.