Captain Corelli's Mandolin (2001)

reviewed by
Jon Popick


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If you've been thinking about vacationing on one of Greece's Ionian Islands and you have a lot of time to kill, head down to your local megaplex and check out Captain Corelli's Mandolin. Pretty much everybody else should just stay away. With its crystal-clear blue water and bone-white sandy beaches, Mandolin is essentially a really (really) long commercial for the Greek Tourism Commission.

As if we haven't already had our fill of wartime romances this summer, Mandolin tries awfully hard to be The English Patient but instead is only slightly less ridiculously annoying than Pearl Harbor (with fewer explosions, to boot). It's about a Greek woman who falls in love with one of the Italian soldiers occupying her picturesque island during World War II, which would be kind of like Anne Frank hooking up with Colonel Klink. Like Patient, it's based on a hip novel (Louis de Bernières' 1994 novel had a different ending and oodles of homosexual overtones) that you've probably never heard of before, but Patient it is definitely not.

Mandolin was doomed from the get-go, with original director Roger Michell (Notting Hill) dropping out after suffering a heart attack just months before shooting was supposed to start (personally, I think he was faking). He was replaced by John Madden (Shakespeare in Love), but then one of the worst casting blunders of all-time occurred when Nicolas Cage was tapped to play the Italian soldier and Penélope Cruz accepted the role of his Greek beauty (because all olive-skinned people look alike, right?).

Why can't more filmmakers do like Abbas Kiarostami and Jafar Panahi and cast films with actual people native to the region in which the film is set? With Mandolin, we get Cage (The Family Man), whose Captain Antonio Corelli is the only member of his battalion to speak Greek. When he translates, he's an American guy who is playing an Italian speaking Greek, but it's really English. Makes about as much sense as my long-distance phone bill.

About a half-hour before I saw this film, some entertainment show was crowing about Cage spending months to master an Italian accent, as well as learning how to both play the mandolin and conduct an opera. They made it seem like he was working on a cure for cancer, and the fact is, his accent is horrible. Cage, who has very little experience in period romances, sounds like Dracula (he always looks like him anyway, to me), and if it weren't for Shannon Elizabeth in American Pie 2, he'd win the Worst Accent of the Month Award.

Cruz (Blow) is no better, as her Pelagia is performed by a Spaniard stumbling over the English language while not even bothering to try to sound the slightest bit Greek (but all Mediterranean people sound the same, right?). Pelagia has spent her whole life on the island of Cephallonia (which, I think, is the name of the brain tumor you get from using a cell phone), learning how to practice medicine from her father, Iannis (John Hurt, Lost Souls). She gets engaged to a simple fisherman named Mandras (played by a simple actor named Christian Bale, Shaft), but before you know it, those damn Italians are amassing at the Greek border on Mussolini's orders.

Shortly after Mandras heads off to join the Greek partisans, Cephallonia surrenders to the Italians (after a funny initial response) and the island becomes "occupied" by a dozen soldiers, led by the mandolin-toting Corelli. Iannis, who looks an awful lot like Stalin, is forced to put Corelli up in his house, much to the dismay of Pelagia. But we learn Corelli is more into dancing, singing, drinking and swimming than any type of war activity. He'd sooner shout "Heil Puccini" than "Heil Hitler," and he tries to acclimate himself with all of Cephallonia's locals (called Cellephants, perhaps).

Even the blind can see where this story is going. Pelagia hates Corelli at first, but she starts to fall for him at the one-hour mark, and they're playing tonsil hockey about 15 minutes later. Then, the all-important unveiling of the Penélopes occurs. But what will happen when the tides turn in the War? How will Italy's surrender affect the island? Will the soulless Germans try to occupy Cephallonia? And, more importantly, will we get to see the Penélopes again?

If you can stay awake, you'll learn the answers to these important questions and more at Captain Corelli's Mandolin, playing at a theatre near you. Just don't say I didn't warn you.

2:09 - R for some violence, sexuality and language

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