Despite star-studded cast, ‘Winter’s Tale’ has flu-like appeal

by Varun Bhuchar | 2/16/14 4:42pm

Books will be written on the awfulness of “Winter’s Tale” (2014). The odd decisions, stale lines and questionable career choices will keep film scholars and BuzzFeed writers at bay for decades. If you were dragged to this movie on a Valentine’s Day date, rethink your relationship. If a relative decides a few months from now to give this movie as a gift, cut off all contact and disown him or her. If you’re on a plane and this is the in-flight movie, fake a heart attack. The resulting legal proceedings and hospital bills will be better than subjecting yourself to two hours of “Winter’s Tale.”

The plot, if you can call it that, is about Peter Lake (Colin Farrell), a master thief who falls in love with a terminally ill young woman, Beverly Penn, (Jessica Brown Findlay) who he has known for literally five minutes. But watch out, lovebirds! An evil Irish gangster (Russell Crowe) and the Devil (Will Smith — yes, really) can’t let that happen for reasons I’m still trying to work out.

By the time Jennifer Connelly, who plays Virginia Gamely, shows up halfway through the film, I had mentally checked out and was just wondering how on Earth this was made. Wasn’t there a point in the production process when someone stood up and exclaimed, “This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen”? The answer, sadly, is no. Akiva Goldsman, the writer, director, producer and ruiner of the film, is an Academy Award-winning screenwriter who called in every favor and likely sacrificed a few goats to make this movie possible.

“Winter’s Tale” is a horrifically offensive movie. Not only is it distasteful culturally, racially and socially, but it launches a full-out tactical offense on the good taste of anyone unfortunate enough to watch it. The first scene is innocuous enough with Peter’s Russian parents, who are being deported from Ellis Island, placing their baby son in a model ship and sending him afloat toward New York Harbor. Never mind that they’re about five miles offshore, the baby makes it for the sake of the plot!

Peter is then adopted by a Native American man. How do I know he’s Native American? Because the audience suffers a drawn-out deluge of details leading it toward this fact, some more absurd than others. The adoptive father character speaks in slow sentences, makes lots of vague references to “our people” and then points to Peter’s horse, who, by the way, can fly. Did I mention Peter’s adoptive father is a fisherman — in Brooklyn? And just how does Peter acquire an Irish accent? Then again, if we believe in flying horses, we can somehow have a more offensive version of “The Jerk” (1979).

Crowe brings back the evil Irishman stereotype. I think, at least, he was going for an Irish accent. A sock could have been stuffed in his mouth, and you wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference. He has mysterious scars on his face that are supposed to build his character, but instead, they push it to the point where it’s hard to care anymore. He’s dark and mysterious and evil! Yawn.

Findlay, best known for her role on “Downton Abbey,” apparently asked to be killed off in the show so that she could appear in this film. Really? That’s like taking the lead in the Indy 500, getting out of your car in the middle of the race and insisting that you will finish and do better on the back of the stationary rock you just found on the side of the track. The fact that she’s as lifeless as a Ken doll and saddled with this Deepak Chopra-like narration doesn’t really help her case. Good thing they have free health care in England, because this part is not going to get her to the top of casting directors’ lists.

“Winter’s Tale” is not a comedy of errors; it is just errors. The epitome of its kitsch happens early when Beverly catches Peter robbing her room. Because he’s so smolderingly handsome, she invites him for tea. They talk, building their flimsy characters, and at the peak of their sexual tension, she asks him about the best thing he has ever stolen. The camera slowly zooms in on Crowe, the music swells and he answers in his rugged Irish brogue, “I’m beginning to think I haven’t stolen it yet.” My eye roll would make Liz Lemon proud. Watch at your own risk, people. This is a tale to avoid.


Rating: 1.9/10

“Winter’s Tale” is (unfortunately) playing at the Nugget.