Alexander review

If you can face it, this may be the comedy of the year. There's a scene near the end of Oliver Stone's gloriously ill-conceived epic - when Alexander (Colin Farrell) drones on about his plans for world domination while a friend dies in bed - that recalls the brilliance of Monty Python at its best. Sadly, by this stage your will to live will have left, along with half the audience. This film is an endurance test.

Yet, like its hero's globe-trotting escapades, it starts with such promise. The storytelling device is biopic-by-numbers, but it makes sense - wizened Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins) dictating to a scribe tales of how he rode with this God among men. This segues into young Alex at the side of his snake-charming mother (Angelina Jolie, vamping it up gloriously like a Romanian Bette Davis), before Pop (Val Kilmer) pops in for a bit of angry 'ow's-yer-father and the pair's fierce fight psychologically scars their son. It's a superb scene: intimate, alive and OTT - a snippet of Ollie Stone's Hamlet.

If only a third of the film conveyed such passion. For we're soon dragged away from the compelling court politics, back to Hopkins's narration, which describes Alexander's initial invasions (instead of showing them), excuses his massacres (instead of showing them) and flashbacks into the first of many interminable discussions between the bottle-blond ruler and his advisors.

Even the action is long-winded - the initially exhilarating battle scene ends up being a long gallop to Vangelis's sepulchral score. The battle scene? Well, actually there are two (two, in a three-hour film about the greatest warrior who ever lived), but even the second's marvellous, non-CG elephant face-off shot can't dispel the torpor.

Farrell weeps and rages but appears lost, while his much-hyped 'love' scenes with Jared Leto's Hephaistion substitute being fey for being gay and prove infuriatingly chaste (who'd have thought Stone would lack the stones to face down Hollywood's hypocritical attitude to onscreen homosexuality?). In contrast, Farrell and his "barbarian wife" Roxana (Rosario Dawson) enjoy one of the most ludicrous sex scenes ever shot. Stone can do violence like few others, but the fact he can't 'do' sex and romance is his downfall here.

This is a love letter to a man he admires and, like most love letters (messy, embarrassing, clichéd), it shouldn't be seen by others. "It's an old fool's rubbish," grumbles Ptolemy of his story, and while Stone is too talented, his films too important, to be so dismissed, America's most daring filmmaker has been blunted. He desperately needs a Salvador.

A great way to ruin a Friday night. Overblown and laughable, Alexander is shocking for being so insipid. No guts. No glory.


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