Movie Review: ‘Winter’s Tale’ better left untold

As writer, producer or director, Akiva Goldsman stands behind a slew of Hollywood successes: “I Am Legend,” “Lone Survivor,” “The Da Vinci Code,” “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” TV’s “Fringe” and two of my favorite recent movies, “A Beautiful Mind” and “Cinderella Man.”

This string of money-makers probably explains why he got the green light on “Winter’s Tale,” a painfully lifeless and uninspired dud that isn’t going to make any money.

Written, directed and produced by Goldsman, the film is based on Mark Helprin’s 1983 bestseller; I haven’t read it, but I’m interested now, if only to see how this movie managed to suck the life out of such an acclaimed and beloved novel.

The film’s storyline – which omits much from Helprin’s lengthy opus – involves a skilled thief (Colin Farrell) who is being hunted by the mysterious and powerful Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe) in early twentieth-century Manhattan.

Deciding to commit one final burglary before leaving town, the thief falls for a terminally ill young woman (Jessica Brown Findlay) who happens to be in the house when he breaks in.

Layered into all this is an awkward supernatural theme in which Crowe’s character turns out to be a fiendish demon working for Lucifer (Will Smith, in a surprisingly effective cameo); in the movie’s semi-mythic milieu, miracles are possible, along with flying horses and (apparently) perpetual youth; and those who’ve died “rise up into the sky and become stars.”

None of this goop is very clear, and we never understand why Soames is bent on destroying the young lovers. To make matters worse, he’s too shapeless and simplistic to be even remotely scary.

Findlay is an intriguing new talent (known for playing Lady Sybil on “Downton Abbey”), but even though she and Farrell have some chemistry – well, their lovers’ plight doesn’t generate much interest. Rarely have I felt less concern for a likable character facing certain death.

So: No tears, no fears, no romantic fireworks – and perhaps most glaring, no solace from the movie’s would-be-hopeful philosophy.

Instead, we get incoherent new-age platitudes: “Everything’s connected by the light”; “inside each of us is a miracle”; “there’s this great dance, and we all have our part”; “that journey to find our destiny may defeat even time itself.”

If Goldsman really wanted to show us “connected by light,” he could have relied on veteran cinematographer Caleb Deschanel to bring this out organically, rather than using showy flashes and sparkles in scene after scene.

The film’s sole interest is three minor performances of extraordinary vitality – one from the well-known Native American actor Graham Greene and two from newcomers, the magnetic Kevin Durand as Caesar and the dazzling young Mckayla Twiggs as Findlay’s younger sister.

Oh, yeah – there is one priceless line in which Farrell insists, “I’ve had no memory for as long as I can remember.”

Ugh. If that’s the best Goldsman can do, he may want a co-writer on his next project.

1 1/2 stars out of 4.

Rated PG-13 for violence and some sensuality .