You can count the number of movie adaptations of Titus Andronicus on one nose and for a very good reason - it stinks. Pandering to the bear-pit section of his audience, the Bard's saltiest play crams in rape, mutilation, murder, cannibalism and infanticide. So, given its justifiable rep as a second-rate Elizabethan slasher from the literati's serial quiller, it would take a brave talent to pull off a successful cinematic makeover. Surprise, surprise: Julie Taymor is no Baz Luhrmann.
From the first reel, it's obvious Taymor wants that Romeo + Juliet snap and fizz. Of course, while Luhrmann's movie was revolutionary in style and execution, he also had a masterpiece to play with. But Titus Andronicus ain't no Hamlet, and the impression here is that Taymor is over-compensating for the play's weaknesses with a barrage of self-serving stylistics.
The director shoves every pop cultural ingredient she can get her hands on, stirs them into a melting pot and cooks up a stringy fondue of laboured imagery and muddled agendas. You only have to check out the ludicrous cat-walk of costumes to see how far Titus moulinexes its influences: Mad Max, Roman togas, fascist glam and Blake's 7 all bicker for attention. The clash `n' jumble strategy continues with the visuals - one minute it's Matrix freeze-framing, the next it's paintbox montages that look like a bad Bananarama video.
Taymor's argument would doubtless be that all this satirises Hollywood violence - but even if it is, it's not a very good one. Still, the cast labour on like luvvies trapped in the glare of an MTV panto. Anthony Hopkins is a low-rent King Lear, Lange all ham, while Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Alan Cumming show little evidence of escaping their dungeon of sixth-former over-acting. Only Harry Lennix truly impresses, oozing a dignified menace as the scheming Moor, Aaron. So, can ye polish a turd? On the evidence of Titus, no, ye certainly can't.