Alexander stars Colin Farrell in a blond mullet and miniskirted toga as the conqueror dude later tagged "the Great." So misconceived, so shrill, so fetishy is Oliver Stone's epic, so unintentionally hilarious a stew of paganism and Freudianism, that it makes Conan the Barbarian look like Gladiator.
Not coincidentally, Stone cowrote Conan, which Alexander resembles in that the characters don't talk but declaim!
Alexander, who lived from 356 to 323 B.C., was the king of Macedonia, unifier of Greece, annexer of Asia. As Stone tells it, from the first, the lad was the object in an epic tug-of-war between his mother, the keening, snake-worshiping Olympias (Angelina Jolie with Medusa hair and a Transylvanian accent), and his father, the drunken, debauched Philip (a one-eyed Val Kilmer, looking like Cyclops on a bender).
Philip is not your father, growls Olympias, who tells her boy that he is a living god, spawn of Dionysius and Zeus. (Don't ask.) She is not your mother, belches Philip, she is a sorceress who slithers with serpents. Daddy proceeds to rape Mommy before Alexander's eyes. Little wonder the kid's confused.
Olympias takes the preteen Alexander to bed. Philip takes him to look at cave paintings that celebrate the deeds of mythical figures such as Achilles and Oedipus.
Stone takes him on a histrionic journey, implying that had Alexander killed his mother and slept with his father, reversing the Oedipus story, he wouldn't have been driven to rape women, pillage kingdoms, and sexually idolize his best friend, sultry Hephaistion (Jared Leto with Cindy Crawford hair and eyeliner).
Given the viper who nourishes him at her bosom, and the sexual brute of insatiable appetites, to whom can Alex turn? Well, to his tutor, Aristotle (yes, that Aristotle, played by Christopher Plummer). The philosopher advises his charge that platonic love between men is virtuous but that lust between them is not.
Torn between a burning desire for Hephaistion and a passion to rule the world, Alexander opts for both/and. Astride his ebony steed Bucephalus, scarlet aigrettes flying from his golden helmet, he conquers Persia, then reenacts the primal scene by wedding the comely Asian princess, Roxane (Rosario Dawson), a dead ringer for Olympias.
No slouch, Roxane. When she catches the smoldering glance that passes between Alex and Hephaistion, she asks, in a Salma Hayek grunt, "You . . . luff . . . heem?"
Alexander replies by raping his bride.
I mean no disrespect to Stone's Any Given Sunday when I say that both the sex and the battle sequences here look like football plays drawn by an NFL coach and shot by the wide receiver's mother. Usually, even when I don't like a Stone film I admire its frenzied energy, but the editing here is as lethargic as the compositions are perfunctory.
Even worse, in this movie where most of the interiors look like theme rooms of a Vegas hostelry and the exteriors look like blurry travelogues, Stone wastes the prodigious talents of the great cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto. (An exception is the stirring sequence of the entry into Babylon, with its Hanging Gardens.) And can that hokey score really be the work of Vangelis, best known for the triumphant Chariots of Fire soundtrack?
As for the acting, Farrell looks overwhelmed by the scenery, a boy sent to do a man's job. (Given Stone's penchant for melodramatizing American presidencies in JFK and Nixon, it occurred to me during the historic procession into Babylon that the movie might not be solely about Alexander, but also about George W. Bush.) If ever there was a part in need of Russell Crowe's cerebral macho, his gift for playing a force who affects the winds of change, this is it. The uncomfortable Farrell looks like something blown about by an ill wind.
He and Stone have invented a new genre - the schleppic.
Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her recent work at http://go.philly.com/carrierickey.
Alexander * (out of four stars)
Produced by Moritz Borman, Jon Kilik, Thomas Schühly, Iain Smith and Oliver Stone; directed by Stone; written by Stone, Christopher Kyle and Laeta Kalogridis; photography by Rodrigo Prieto; music by Vangelis, distributed by Warner Bros.
Running time: 2 hr., 53 min.
Alexander. . . Colin Farrell
Olympias. . . Angelina Jolie
Philip of Macedon. . . Val Kilmer
Hephaistion. . . Jared Leto
Roxane. . . Rosario Dawson
Parent's guide: R (violent battle scenes, nudity, sex)
Showing at: area theaters