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Romancing the Slush

Bad Movies don’t just happen, you know.

Genuine Bad Movies, the kind that endure, take a lot of weirdness and a lot of hard work and mistakes and rigorous attention to making terrible decisions. All of those decisions must be fully and completely wrong and all of them must be perfectly timed. The finished product, if it wants to exist in a longterm state of Bad Movie grace, has no choice but to come about as the result of ineptly calibrated systems of variables and a little bit of anti-magic. Only then can the Bad Movie congeal into a wiggly Jello mold of garbage-flavored pleasure.

Winter’s Tale, the story of a young burglar (Colin Farrell, 38 and playing 21) and his love for an illness-ravaged young heiress (Jessica Brown Findlay, Downton Abbey's doomed Lady Sybil), enacted against a supernatural backdrop of demons, angels and miracles, is almost that kind of Bad Movie. It certainly aims for the anti-magic.

But to explain why it only hits the “almost” mark I’ll have to divulge a lot of plot details that most people would consider secrets meant to unfold while viewing. So bail out now if that’s a problem.

There are no shortage of nonsense events in this fantasy-romance: flying horses to whisk Farrell away from harm, immortality for the sake of proper miracle-conduction, people who can see spiritual light-trails that connect all humankind, tuberculosis as an illness that makes its victim more voluptuous and beautiful even as it ravages overheated flesh, Russell Crowe’s face erupting like a volcano, comedy bowler hats, inexplicable dialects, adorable cancer-kids, the inadvisability of gifting Colin Farrell with your fragile, virginal, illness-body and somehow expecting him not to aggravate your already fevered state (you've seen the man's sex tape -- you know what he's capable of), 90 year-old Eva Marie Saint playing a 107-year-old newspaper editor, Will Smith, and then something about people turning into gaseous stars when they die. Everything else makes sense compared to that last one.

In both a very good and very bad film, these elements of scripted weirdness would either soar heroically like that winged horse galloping Farrell across the universe or roll themselves into a bigger and bigger snowball, unleashing an avalanche of crazy. And somehow, in that space where intangibles live, Winter’s Tale fails to accomplish either. As a staunch proponent of the Bad Movie experience, I was into its shtick. I wanted to believe in the anti-magic. I was rooting for it. Lady Sybil cannot die young enough times for me. She’s really great at it.

But something is off. There's a flat, dull quality to the whole, even as individual strands compete to win at making jaws drop in astonishment. Let's blame tone-deaf director-writer (adapting Mark Helprin's novel) Akiva Goldsman. He wrote Lost In Space and Batman and Robin, after all, so clearly he's sturdy enough to take it.

The sparks simply do not ignite, refusing to combust into something monumentally, psychedelically bad. And that's a bummer, especially if you're looking for a classically bonkers film to stumble its way into your Bad Movie-loving heart. Winter's Tale, instead, earns a solid nod of respect, the kind that says, "I see what you're going for here, nice try." Which is sort of like the plastic 'honorable mention' trophy you get for showing up before everyone forgets you did.


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