Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Michael Hoffman
Stars: Kevin Kline, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christian Bale, Calista Flockhart, Stanley Tucci, Rupert Everett, Dominic West, Anna Friel, Sophie Marceau, David Strathairn, Sam Rockwell, Roger Rees.
To see, or not to see? That is indeed the question regarding Michael Hoffman’s rather disappointing and pedestrian adaptation of Shakespeare’s whimsical comedy about romance, mismatched lovers and a little night magic. Unlike other directors, such as Baz Luhrmann and his brilliant contemporary version of Romeo And Juliet, Hoffman doesn’t take any creative risks with the material, which results in a workmanlike production. The only real change Hoffman makes is in updating the play and relocating it to Tuscany, at the end of the 19th century. It’s a change that doesn’t add much dramatically to the film, but it does enable a number of the central characters to ride around on “that new fangled invention”, the bicycle.
Hermia (Anna Friel) is engaged to the handsome Demetrius (Christian Bale), a match that pleases her straight laced father (David Strathairn). However, Hermia really loves Lysander (Dominic West), who comes from a lesser background. Meanwhile, Helena (Ally McBeal star Calista Flockhart) actually loves Demetrius, but he barely acknowledges her presence. These four lovers wander into the nearby forest, which is the home of the fairy king Oberon (Rupert Everett). They eventually fall under a magical spell cast by the mischievous Puck (Stanley Tucci), which helps the four mismatched lovers solve their problems. Also caught up in one of Puck’s spells is Bottom (Kevin Kline), an egotistical actor with an amateur theatrical company which is rehearsing a play in the woods.
Hoffman’s pacing is rather laboured, and the film offers precious few laughs until the final twenty minutes or so. It is only with the staging of the play within a play sequence that things really pick up, and some much needed life is injected into the film. Visually, the film is quite beautiful, and Oliver Stapleton’s typically lush cinematography of the Tuscan countryside is a major plus.
The performances of the solid ensemble cast are mostly workmanlike throughout, with most of the performers reciting their lines without much passion or conviction. Kline is wonderful and brings some energy to his role as the pompous and bombastic Bottom, while the always solid Tucci shines as the mischievous Puck.
Shakespeare’s comedy has been filmed before, most notably in Warner Bros’ impressive 1935 version featuring an all star cast headed by James Cagney, making this pale and uninspired adaptation almost unnecessary.