Oliver Stone has been out of the limelight for a long time, having gone five years between major theatrical releases since the 1999 football film "Any Given Sunday." The delay could be due to his turning slightly crazy, including an October 2001 panel discussion where he suggested Sept. 11 happened because the Hollywood studios are run by six "princes" that wouldn't let him make a film about Martin Luther King. Christopher Hitchens spoke for many when he summarized that Stone had "lost it."
In November, Stone proved Hitchens' point by releasing "Alexander," as in Alexander the Great, the Macedonian conqueror. Given the movie's subject is one of the most exciting personalities in the history of the world, I thought that surely, surely Stone wouldn't ? couldn't ? ruin it. After suffering for one hour and 40 minutes and knowing I was barely halfway through this torture, I, too, almost lost it and walked out.
What a chariot wreck of a movie. Stone has taken an epic real-life story of a world conqueror and reduced him to a strange, Irish-accented, bisexual ninny, pining for his lifelong male friend Hephaistion (decorated with eyeliner) while maintaining an Oedipal relationship with his kinky mother and somewhat gay father, Philip, who, in turn, hates him and loves him, too.
Everywhere you turn you are met by a homoerotic scene. Historians believe young Alexander was tutored by Aristotle. Do you suppose the greatest lesson the grand philosopher imparted to the lad was "How and When It's Wonderful When Grown Men Bed Each Other"? Stone does, and he forces us listen to this garbage for several minutes.
Historians still debate who, ultimately, was behind the assassination of Philip of Macedonia. But Oliver Stone knows, he also knows that Philip's assassin made out with him moments before plunging a sword into the ruler's belly. At this point in the movie, I envied poor Philip and wanted to borrow that sword to use it on myself.
So what do the critics think? Well, if you read the ad copy in print and TV ads, you'll think they are thoroughly wowed by this Warner Brothers production. "Critics hail Alexander!" screams the headline on television, followed by "Magnificent!" ? "Epic" ? "Stunning"? and "Best Film of the Year!" scrolling down the screen.
But then you notice something odd. The blurbs are racing so fast across the screen the viewer can't see from whence they came. And for good reason. Only when you get a tape of the show and hit the "pause" button are you able to finally see the superlatives' authors: Mostly, a bunch of nobodies attempting to become somebodies by cozying up to Hollywood.
When you see the review quotes in newspaper ads, it's even worse. They're flat-out Oliver Stoned. In one ad appearing in the New York Times, we read Richard Roeper of Ebert & Roeper declare the movie to be "Wild ? Glorious ? Entertaining." There's a reason for those ellipses. It's not exactly what he wrote. The full sentence: "It's just a wild, glorious, wacky mess that I found entertaining."
Newsweek film critic David Ansen raves in the ad that, "'Alexander' is filled with spectacular battles, opulent sets and grand passions." Now read Mr. Ansen's complete sentence: "Though filled with spectacular battles, opulent sets and grand Hellenic passions, this madly ambitious film doesn't compute." Nor was the movie studio about to quote this line from Ansen's review: "With this sometimes stunning, ultimately stupefying epic Stone has met his Waterloo." Or this sentence: "By the end of this histrionic historical slog, you are more likely to feel numb, and not at all sure what compelled him to tell this story. It's a long march with no destination in sight."
So where does one go to find an accurate review, then? There's no science, of course, but for my money, go to the hilarious www.rottentomatoes.com site and its compendium of (mostly) Bronx cheers across the land. "I predict that 'Alexander's one achievement will be the most walked out movie of the year"? "Pretty much a mess, an alternately turgid and florid movie that feels like a drugged-out version of a Cecil B. DeMille epic"? "A swollen behemoth of a celluloid monster -- sometimes mildly interesting but most of the time downright boring"?"Toward the end of the movie, I wanted to kill Alexander just to get it over with and go home." ? "A great thunderous wreck, loud as a gong and just as hollow"? "An absolute mess."
No critic puts this $155 million disaster in its place better than Eric Snider of EricDSnider.com. "Oliver Stone doesn't just create train wrecks. He knocks the train off the rails, sets it on fire, then kills every person on board. (And takes three hours to do it.)"
(With reports by Stephanie DuBois and Emily Feimster)