SUN SCORE : *
Alexander the Great still conquers the known world of antiquity in Oliver Stone's Alexander, but, dramatically, absolutely nothing seems to happen.
This nearly-three-hour feature plays like the most extravagant educational filmstrip ever made. The imagery merely illustrates the running - make that stumbling - commentary of the narrator, Alexander's one-time supporter Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins), who relates the Greek king's story 40 years after the monarch's death. Alexander (Colin Farrell) dreams of uniting the world in the manner of Warren Beatty's Bulworth: If everyone slept with everybody (in Alexander's case, male or female) all people would be free. But Ptolemy admits at the finish that Alexander was the sole Macedonian who believed in his One World. To the bitter end, Alexander demonstrates the non-art of the anti-climax.
In an early scene, Alexander's capital A-alpha male father, Philip of Macedonia (Val Kilmer), takes his son (played in youth by Connor Paolo) on a walking tour of Greek mythology as spelled out in garish cave paintings. It's the kind of idea that must have sounded groovy at a bong bash. Stone wants these fables of vengeful mortals and capricious gods to ballast Alexander's hyperbolic ambitions and dizzying rise and fall. But a flash to a cave painting isn't enough to transform Alexander's murderous witch of a mom, Olympias (Angelina Jolie), into Medea. She's still more of a figure from our media: Mothers Who Love Their Sons Too Much.
The true light of Alexander's life - it burns through tons of mascara - turns out to be his boyhood wrestling pal, Hephaistion (played as an adult by Jared Leto). But abandon hope of camp, all ye who enter here: The movie's vital signs are so low that it gets few intentional or unintentional laughs. With Hephaistion at his side, Alexander strives to defeat Persia. Unfortunately, the reel-long Battle of Gaugamela comes off as a whirling chaos of spear-thrusting, shield-clanging effects. You know a director of an epic clash must be struggling when he needs subtitles to identify his hero's fighting forces (as in, "Macedonian Center").
Alexander displays the usual Stone hubris of drawing historical parallels: He's proud to be obvious. Alexander risks annihilating his own military when he decides to slice through Persia's army and go directly for the head, King Darius. As a chapter head for his rendering of Alexander's Persian war, Stone could have borrowed comic Jon Stewart's nickname for Iraq, "Mess O' Potamia." You half expect Alexander to declare, "Darius, you can run but you can't hide."
Stone is the one who keeps flubbing his mission. Alexander struts into Babylon before his victory even registers with his men or with the audience. Despite such surefire material as a march of triumph through a glittering city, Stone loses the beat - or fails to find one.
In this audiovisual morass, you wait in vain for some Tom, Dick or Harry - or Cleitus, Philotas or Cassander - to emerge as an individual from Alexander's fractious coterie.
Only Hephaistion sticks out, largely because he overuses eyeliner. (Where was Stone's straight eye for this gay guy?)
Stone tries to vitalize the movie's mid-section with a fang-baring, knife-flashing nuptial bout between Alexander and his Eastern wife Roxane (Rosario Dawson). Too bad the guy looks outmatched. Though Farrell does pout prettily, he lets his blond bob, mini-tunics, red-plumed helmets and molded breastplates do most of the performing, even when Alexander harangues his men on the battlefield. It almost clicks for the Macedonians to boast hearty Gaelic accents and the more refined Greeks from Athens to speak like British twits. But the unwanted side effect is to make you feel you're back in Braveheart. This film heaves to life more than two hours too late, during a showdown in India between horse and elephant - not a good thing for a picture sure to be called "elephantine."
Alexander is a subject that should rouse visionary filmmakers to lyric heights, but Alexander is no Napoleon and Stone is no Abel Gance. Under the delusion that he reinvents cliches, this director simply gussies them up. Does Stone think he's the first director to show a moon rise from nocturnal murk when his protagonist is about to act mysterious? He's more like the 4,000th. The movie is a monument to egomania - and I don't mean Alexander's.
Starring Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer, Jared Leto and Anthony Hopkins
Directed by Oliver Stone
Released by Warner Bros.
Time 175 minutes