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For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.

(Photo by Photo by Stephen Vaughan.)

photo caption:
DANGEROUS DERRING DO: "Lucky" Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe, left) takes aim as coxswain Barret Bonden (Billly Boyd) offers encouragement.

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Master and Commander: Snail-Paced Swashbuckler a Sure Cure for Insomnia

Review by Kam Williams

Leave it to Peter Weir to figure out a way to snap Russell Crowe's string of inspired performances which started with LA Confidential and included A Beautiful Mind , Gladiator, The Insider, Proof of Life, and more. After all, Weir's the same director who almost torpedoed Jim Carrey's skyrocketing career by casting the zany comic against type as an almost sedated dullard in The Truman Show. That, right on the heels of such high-octane hits as Liar, Liar, Ace Ventura 1 & 2, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber.

Russell Crowe is such a gifted actor that, normally, he is able to elevate even the most mediocre material to an acceptable level. Alas, this is not the case with Master and Commander, an ill-fated bastardization of The Far Side of The World, the 10th installment in Patrick O'Brian's scintillating swashbuckling series of best-sellers. The prolific author, who died in 2000 at the age of 85, wrote a total of 20 books based on the daring seafaring exploits of Captain "Lucky" Jack Aubrey and intelligence agent Dr. Stephen Maturin.

The story was originally set during the War of 1812 and followed its dashing pair of heroes aboard the HMS Surprise where they led a motley crew of misfits on a mission around Cape Horn to intercept an American frigate which had been attacking British whaling vessels in uncharted Pacific waters. Along the way, they encounter everything from a primitive tribe of lesbian Amazons to the odd menagerie of creatures inhabiting the Galapagos Islands.

It is understandable that in the course of distilling a 366-page opus down to a two-hour action flick, some scenes might be simplified, some characters conflated, and anything extraneous might be excised entirely. However, the original material, to its detriment, has been so severely altered that the studio should have considered coming up with a new title altogether, or better yet, should have simply scrapped the project.

The movie is set during the Napoleonic Wars, apparently in order that the villains could now conveniently be changed from American to French, the nationality of Hollywood's new generic bad guy. The story unfolds in the Atlantic, off the coast of Brazil, with "the Frenchies" mounting a cowardly sneak attack on The Surprise, exacting a heavy toll on both crew and ship. Captain Aubrey (Crowe) proceeds to oversee repairs while Dr. Maturin (Paul Bettany) attends to the wounded.

Although The Acheron has guns with double the range and double the firepower, Lucky decides on a ceaseless chase. But between that initial attack and the cataclysmic showdown, there's about two hours of humdrum nothingness which leads one to think there wasn't much more to do at sea than drink rum, sing sea shanties, carve scrimshaw, and peer into space through a telescope from the crow's nest.

While Master and Commander recaptures the bygone days of the ultimate in intimate male-bonding opportunities, it fails to develop any meaningful relationships among its characters. Thus, this is a mindless war movie with dialogue saturated with words such as sextant, leftenant and bosun's mate, and punctuated with Anglophilic appeals like "For England! For home and the prize!" and "This ship is England!"

As for the cinematography, remember how frightfully gripping the huge waves were in The Perfect Storm from start to finish? Well, don't expect anything close to that. This film relies mostly on fake-looking miniature ships and computer-generated models during its action sequences. The rest of the camera work, shot in a seven-acre tank at a Fox Studio in Mexico, was too closely cropped to allow for the expansive feel of an oceanic epic.

Fair. Rated PG-13 for intense battle scenes, gory wounds and brief profanity.

end of review.

For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.


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