Opens Fri., Feb. 14 at Ark Lodge and other theaters. Rated PG-13. 118 minutes.
Valentine’s Day is early to call a contest closed, but will 2014 possibly offer a dopier movie than Winter’s Tale? With its time-traveling hero, white flying horse, and philosophical bromides (“Can’t you see that everything is connected by the light?”), this movie is like enduring a weekend at a quasi-religious education camp where everyone smiles as vapidly as our doomed, brave heroine.
Winter’s Tale opens with two late-19th-century immigrants being turned away at Ellis Island and casting adrift their infant son in U.S. waters. (Doesn’t seem credible? It’s magical realism, baby. Just go with it.) The kid floats to shore and grows up to be adorable rascal Peter Lake (Colin Farrell), who adopts the winged white horse while outrunning the vengeance of Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe, still in Les Miz mode). Pearly, a criminal boss in sooty New York City, doesn’t seem fazed by the unicorn—sorry, flying horse—because Pearly is already a part of the supernatural battle that lies beneath the surface world. Pearly answers to a higher power called Lu (Will Smith), whose name is short for something else we won’t mention here.
Peter’s glorious romance with wealthy, consumption-riddled Beverly (Jessica Brown Findlay, of Downton Abbey) sets the stage for the time-leap that places him in 21st-century New York. Here, his destiny—and it’s all destiny, it’s all meant to be, you see—brings him close to a reporter (Jennifer Connelly) and back in the vicinity of the eternal Pearly. With nonsense this staggering, the only chance the film has is with a filmmaker given to delirious flights of visual fancy. Oscar-winning screenwriter and first-time feature director Akiva Goldsman is not that filmmaker. Writing four screenplays for Ron Howard gave Goldsman practice in perfecting the art of overstated exposition, and Winter’s Tale has much to explain.
Winter’s Tale is based on a best-selling and apparently widely beloved 1983 novel by Mark Helprin. I have not read it. It has surely been dramatically pared and otherwise altered. But it’s hard to imagine how this film could have been sourced from anything worthwhile. At least a romantic fantasy such as Somewhere in Time embraced its sci-fi premise and didn’t go wandering off into metaphysical assertions that everything is connected and we’re all here for a reason and other signs of significance. (The Lego Movie makes the same assertions, but is much funnier about it.) In other words, get out your cloud atlas, folks, because it’s rolling in thick around here.