Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) was born in the late nineteenth century, but never knew his parents for they were immigrants who tried to enter the United States but were turned away at the docks for being diseased. Not wishing to bring their infant son back with them, his father stole a model sailing ship and placed the baby inside, then lowered it off the side of the vessel they were being sent back in and into the New York City river. Somehow Peter didn't drown, and somebody must have found him for some years later he was alive and well - perhaps not that well, as someone wanted to kill him. That someone was his old boss Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe), a demonic criminal mastermind who was determined to murder his former charge...
If this is sounding as if it doesn't make a whole heap of sense, imagine what two hours of it feel like in a stripped down adaptation of Mark Helprin's novel which took decades to reach the screen, shedding big names like Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese along the way until it reached the desk of screenwriter Akiva Goldsman - that's Oscar-winning screenwriter, thank you very much. However, his much disputed talents appeared to have deserted him by the point he took the helm here, for whatever appeal the source had, all the movie offered were long stretches of boredom punctuated by brief patches of unintentional hilarity, which if nothing else illustrated that what succeeds on the page does not necessarily succeed on the screen.
This certainly didn't as terrible reviews and poor word of mouth landed Goldsman with a resounding flop, but even so plenty of movies that struggled early on found at least a cult following, and to be fair there were those who managed to take the romantic fantasy playing out here seriously and overlook the plentiful absurdity if it meant they could lose themselves in a love story spanning a whole century. You read that right, as we head for the present after a whole hour spent in 1915 where Peter meets Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay in a ginger curly wig) after breaking into her house, he is surprised to find that she falls in love with him over a tea-sniffing session, and those feelings are reciprocated, because nothing speaks to the yearning heart of a young woman like burglary.
Or so this would have you believe, but poor old Bev has a special disease herself: consumption. This has the effect of, er, well it has no effect whatsoever, she doesn't even get a cough or two and looks positively radiant for the time she is on the screen, though she tells Peter she has to stay in the cold, which sees to it she sleeps in a tent on the roof of her house in the middle of a New York winter, undoubtedly the best thing for a healthy lifestyle. Next time you're really ill, try locking yourself in a walk-in freezer while wearing a flimsy nightie overnight and experience the huge benefits. Anyway, as if that wasn't idiotic enough, we can tell this is a magic story because Peter has been befriended by a magic horse, one which flies with see-through wings that gets him out of trouble more than once. The sight of the cast members soaring around on this is amusing, at least.
Amusing in a way that watching Farrell and Findlay, whose chemistry is nil, mope around with one another in interminable scenes of romantic nothingness is not. Anyway, after a shag proves too much for her iron constitution, Bev joins the choir invisible and leaves Peter to apparently wander around New York in a daze, easy pickings for Pearly you would have thought, but somehow the baddie manages to miss him until he gets permission from Will Smith to hunt down his quarry. Quite how the Fresh Prince has jurisdiction over who lives or dies is open to question, but a lot about this was, for example Bev's sister (Eva Marie Saint) still around in the 2014 scenes, she must have been pushing 110 yet still holds down a job as a newspaper editor. That was the trouble here, it ached for profundity with its obsessions for eternal love and transcending death itself, but wholly lacked the ability to tackle such philosophical weight, leaving sappy soap opera level drama mixed with ludicrous phantasmagoria aiming for class and falling flat on its face. Music by Hans Zimmer and Rupert Gregson-Williams.