In the movies, particularly in the case of best-sellers adapted for the screen, time travel and its next-door neighbor, reincarnation, seem like a good idea at the time. But very often something goes gooey. Even with Colin Farrell's soulful eyes, the tastefully cockamamie and increasingly gloppy new film "Winter's Tale," pulled from Mark Helprin's 1983 novel, refuses to take off in any of its eras.
Screenwriter/director Akiva Goldsman has stripped the source material for parts and for its through-line, eliminating various characters, as is the case with any adaptation. What's left is sincere ridiculousness. You have the time-traveling thief with the heart of gold, played by Farrell, who begins life in late-19th-century New York City as a foundling straight out of Shakespeare. (As is the title, minus the "The.") You have a magical flying horse who befriends our hero, Peter Lake, at a convenient juncture, just as he's about to be attacked by one of Lucifer's own henchmen. The adversary with the penchant for computer-generated monsterisms is portrayed by Russell Crowe, twitching and glowering and always, always threatening to break into one of his songs from "Les Miserables."
In the 1916 section of the tale, Peter falls for a consumptive newspaper heiress (Jessica Brown Findlay of "Downton Abbey"), who dies seconds after losing her virginity, swathed in cinematographer Caleb Deschanel's honey-toned lighting, to the thief who stole her heart. In the 2014 bits, also set in and around a highly romanticized New York, Peter's the same age, the same desperate miracle worker in a new era. Jennifer Connelly, playing a food writer but looking like someone who never eats enough, has little to do except be sad, and then be happy that this mysterious hunky angel of sorts has come to save her own little girl from cancer.
If that sounds like a plot development of dubious taste, "Winter's Tale" may not be for you. Goldsman, a veteran screenwriter, makes his feature directorial debut here, and he doesn't yet think like a visual fantasist. If your movie features, prominently, a flying steed with wings made of starlight, you want that animal to look cool, or at least interesting, not like a hippy-dippy knockoff of the old TriStar studio logo.
At one point Crowe, who comes off like a ward boss with no concerns about re-election, talks of "blackenin' souls and crushin' miracles." Despite the actors, who at least get some swell clothes to wear, "Winter's Tale" is a bit of a soul-crusher itself.
"Winter's Tale" - 1 1/2 stars
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for violence and some sensuality)
Running time: 1:58