DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

 
ACROSS THE UNIVERSE (director: Julie Taymor; screenwriters: Dick Clement/Ian La Frenais/based on a story by Ms. Taymor/Mr. Clement/Mr. La Frenais; cinematographer: Bruno Delbonnel; editor: Françoise Bonnot; music: Elliot Goldenthal/songs by the Beatles; cast: Evan Rachel Wood (Lucy), Jim Sturgess (Jude), Joe Anderson (Max), Dana Fuchs (Sadie), Martin Luther McCoy (Jo-Jo), T. V. Carpio (Prudence), Lisa Hogg (Jude's Liverpool Girlfriend), Robert Clohessy (Jude's Father), Robert Clohessy (Jude's Father); Runtime: 131; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Suzanne Todd/Jennifer Todd/Matthew Gross; Columbia Pictures; 2007)

"Misses by the size of the Atlantic Ocean in getting to what the Beatles were about."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Celebrated Broadway director of Disney's "The Lion King," Julie Taymor ("Titus"/"Frida"), directs this weirdly superficial concoction of a Beatles film that is stilted, tasteless, insulting and dull that plays footloose with baby boomer Beatles nostalgia. Though it has some visual moments of inventiveness in pop culture art (like giant blue puppets), the overlong and overly ambitious musical is merely a jejune whimsical MTV-like extended video that uses the Beatles music against the backdrop of the turbulent changing times scene of the 1960s in America that includes anti-war protests against the Vietnam War, battle scenes from the war, the psychedelic scene in Greenwich Village, counterculture happenings, the race riot in Detroit and its benign take on the emergence of the new hard rock sound sweeping the country. Veteran screenwriters Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais create a simplistic story that allows Taymor to spin off a number of the more celebrated Beatles songs, as they fall into place whenever the director feels in the mood of another song to coverup all the awful dialogue that takes place between numbers. 

The shallow story follows the nice guy working-class Liverpool shipyard worker named Jude (Jim Sturgess), who comes to America to meet his American soldier dad who doesn't even know that he exists. While tracking his long- lost dad to Princeton, where he's a janitor with a family and not interested in reuniting with a son he never knew existed, Jude befriends prankster rich boy Princeton student Max (Joe Anderson). The rebellious upper-class Max drops out of school and moves in with Jude in an East Village tenement walk-up pad for hippies that has the landlady Sadie (Dana Fuchs), an aspiring singer who is supposed to remind us of Janis Joplin. Also living in the dump are Sadie's lover boy, a Jimi Hendrix-like guitarist named Jo-Jo (Martin Luther McCoy), and a lesbian runaway from Ohio named Prudence (T. V. Carpio). The love of Jude's life turns out to be Max's sweet sister Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood), whose boyfriend was killed in Vietnam. She becomes radicalized against the war and leaves her secure corporate lawyer father's stuffy suburban home to live in the free-wheeling filthy city with aspiring illustrator Jude. But their bliss is dampened by the war clouds, as she joins a questionable activist group with a womanizing leader and the cheeky Jude gets serious about finding work designing album covers and has no time for protesting. We're supposed to care about these star-crossed lovers as Taymor tells the two stories, one personal and the other historical, that ends with the belief that all you need is love. The personal story comes with a sugary and unbelievable pat ending. The way this uninvolving pic was presented indicates you might need more than just love to come up with at least a decent pic--maybe something like a combo of intellect and feeling and a good story. 

The film is a triumph only of theatrics and stage-like set designs that re-create the 1960s, albeit artificially. Numerous Beatles songs pop up, characters (all named from Beatles songs) sing for no reason and skits are played out involving the songs. It never says anything witty (a major fault of the film is in how humorless it is) but is filled with banal serious things it says about the time period it covers and misses by the size of the Atlantic Ocean in getting to what the Beatles were about. The acting has no one who sticks out with any star charisma, though all are blandly pleasant. 

There are a few noteworthy cameos that standout such as from U2 lead singer Bono, whose rendition of "I Am the Walrus" is a highlight of the film. Bono plays a Ken Kesey-like spiritual guru riding around the country with his Merry Pranksters in a psychedelic painted school bus. The great Joe Cocker is another breath of fresh air, as he plays three characters and does a moving rendition of "Come Together." Cocker in his limited movie time supplies the cheer and punch the film seemed to be lacking.

REVIEWED ON 11/18/2007        GRADE: C

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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