It's a brave and foolish thing, what Akiva Goldsman has gone and done. The A-list Hollywood screenwriter (The Da Vinci Code, A Beautiful Mind), clearly besotted with Mark Helprin's bestselling Winter's Tale - a book about love and destiny, angels and demons, the stars in the sky and the palookas walking around old New York - has turned it into a movie.
And Goldsman makes his directing debut with this humble undertaking, no less.
Cooked in a kind of supernatural schmaltz sauce, where everyone is magically entwined - with one another, with the universe - Winter's Tale is the kind of really bad movie that may still be quite easy to like, or even love, if you abandon all senses ye who enter here.
Colin Farrell, playing his charming scamp card, stars as Peter Lake, who, as an infant, washed up in the reeds of New York harbor, afloat in a toy boat called City of Justice. He grows up to be a thief, running with the brutish Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe) and his gang, but in the very early going of the film, Peter is running from Soames - the two have come to odds. Lucky for Peter, there's a white horse ready to help him make his getaway - a white horse that can sprout wings and fly.
As fate would have it (and fate figures majorly), Peter winds up in the mansion of Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay - yes, Lady Sybil of Downton Abbey), a radiant redhead who has only months to live. She has consumption.
And she has blue eyes that lock onto Peter's. His eyes lock back. Houdini couldn't unlock this eye-lock.
But that fierce bear Pearly is bent on destroying Peter and Beverly's love, and Beverly's life, before a miracle occurs. (Yes, there are miracles in this world.) Soames seeks counsel with, well, Lucifer, also known as you-know-who - a gentlemanly fellow played with rings in his ears and a book in his hands by Will Smith. (The book is A Brief History of Time, which is a joke, of course, because Stephen Hawking's cosmological tome won't have been written for 70 years.)
I could go on, but I won't, although Goldsman and company do. Boy, do they ever. Farrell and William Hurt (as Beverly's newspaper tycoon dad) have some meaningful tete-a-tetes, and fix an old furnace that's about to explode while they're at it. There's an adorable little girl, Beverly's sister, played by Mckayla Twiggs, and then everything jumps to the here-and-now: New York City, 2014. Farrell's got a beard and long hair, but he's still the same Peter Lake, although he doesn't really know it. He has amnesia ("I've had no memory for as long as I can remember"), but he has this image of a woman with red hair, and a full moon behind her, and he draws it, with a nice array of chalks, on sidewalks.
Which is how he meets a food writer (Jennifer Connelly) and her little girl. And how he gets to go through the microfiche files of a newspaper. And how we get to see the still-glorious Eva Marie Saint, who plays the editor of said paper, and inquires if Farrell's character would like some tea.
It's all connected, you see.
Winter's Tale ** (Out of four stars)
Directed by Akiva Goldsman. With Colin Farrell, Jessica Brown Findlay, Russell Crowe, and Jennifer Connelly. Distributed by Warner Bros.
Running time: 1 hour, 58 mins.
Parent's guide: PG-13 (violence, adult themes)
Playing at: area theaters