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"Tristan & Isolde" Movie Review

Bad Hair, Bad Dialogue, Bad Movie

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James Franco and Sophia Myles in "Tristan and Isolde."

© 20th Century Fox
James Franco looks out of place, Sophia Myles appears clueless as to who her character is supposed to be, and Rufus Sewell steals every scene – even the ones he’s not in – in “Tristan & Isolde,” the latest effort from “Waterworld” and “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” director Kevin Reynolds.

The very definition of a January release (the month when studios just dump movies), “Tristan & Isolde” does nothing to help further the cause of historic epics. In fact, it may even go down in flames faster than you can say “Orlando Bloom was horribly miscast in ‘Kingdom of Heaven.’”

Franco stars as the rock star of his generation, or so his hair seems to imply. Franco plays Tristan, a heroic young English stud who’s the pride of his adopted family. Rescued by Lord Marke (Sewell) as a youngster from certain, bloody death at the hands of the Irish, Tristan grows up to be the Lord’s favored son. Mark loves the boy more than his own flesh and blood, effectively setting up a third act showdown you know is coming from almost the first 10 minutes of the movie.

Isolde (Myles) is the daughter of the King of Ireland, though she bears not one iota of resemblance in looks or personality to the man who fathered her. Isolde’s mother died when she was just a child and she’s been raised by servants. Pretty though vacant, Isolde knows how to brew potions and whip up remedies from all sorts of poisons, a skill which comes in handy when Tristan washes up on the beach close by.

Instead of turning him in to her father, Isolde nurses the hard-bodied stranger back to health, delighting in the chance to rub ointments on his wound (strategically placed across his chest). Though complete strangers from enemy countries, it’s love at first sight for the virgin Isolde and the lion-maned Englishman.

By the time Tristan must flee back to his homeland, the ‘virgin’ label no longer applies. The two are eventually forced to separate but not before professing their love by means of some of the most imbecilic dialogue imaginable.

Meanwhile back at the ranch…I mean castle...Isolde’s dad comes up with a plan to further alienate the warring communities in England. He puts his daughter’s hand up for grabs to whoever wins a tournament. Tristan wins but can’t claim Isolde as his wife because he was fighting for Lord Marke’s right to marry the fair Isolde. Unable to be together as man and wife but also unable to keep their hands off of one another, Tristan and Isolde cause everyone they know to die torturously slow, horrible, bloody deaths. Okay, that’s not at all true. But it would have been a much better way to finish the film than how it actually wraps itself up.

With this type of historic drama, even if I can’t find much entertaining about the film, the acting, or the direction, there’s normally the ‘at least it looked beautiful’ compliment that can be inserted in the review. With “Tristan & Isolde,” that’s not applicable. The cinematography is nothing special. The set design and costumes do nothing to help bring the era to life, rather they simply add to the ‘too staged’ look of the film. And the director obviously wasn’t going for realism with the fight sequences. There’s a glaring lack of blood when hands, heads, and other miscellaneous body parts are lopped off.

Maybe it was the bad choice of a hair style for James Franco that did the film in. Maybe it’s the fact the leads have zero chemistry. Or just maybe the blame lies in the bland direction of Kevin Reynolds and the dialogue more befitting a made-for-TV movie aimed at bored teens. It’s just about impossible to point to any one thing as the reason “Tristan & Isolde” fails to do much more than lay there and look like a fashion industry photo shoot.

GRADE: C-

"Tristan & Isolde" was directed by Kevin Reynolds and is rated PG-13 for intense battle sequences and some sexuality.

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