Water for Elephants finally proves that Twilight's tortured heartthrob Robert Pattinson can play a character that does something besides sulk and be sullen.
He smiles in this one and actually delivers a decent, un-mumbled line or two.
It doesn’t help the movie, or make him a much better actor, but we do like to note when an actor works hard to improve.
It’s the 1930s and the nation is mired in the Great Depression. Pattinson plays Jacob, a young man on the verge of getting his doctorate in veterinary medicine. While taking his final test Jacob learns that his beloved parents are killed in a car wreck.
They mortgaged the family home to send him to school.
Homeless, heartbroken and without his doctorate, Jacob hops a train to nowhere. The train just happens to house a circus and what circus doesn’t need an expert to care for its animals?
The young man is instantly smitten with Marlena, the show’s star. She’s done by Reese Witherspoon and just happens to be married to the circus’ cruel megalomaniac owner. Perpetual villain Christoph Waltz does the role. A friendship between the three characters forms and the eternal movie love triangle begins.
At the center of the relationship is an elephant that is purchased to allow the circus to compete with hated rival and most successful Ringling Brothers.
Pattinson has little to do but look smitten and smile. That’s what he does best and unlike the Twilight films and Remember Me, at least this character has a personality.
Witherspoon is a terrific actress but completely miscast. With little to do but play goo-goo eyes with Pattinson’s Jacob, placate a jealous husband and look like she’s a circus superstar, Witherspoon sleepwalks through the role.
Waltz is really wasted. He has made villainy a fine art. While not as good here as in his Oscar-winning work in Inglourious Basterds, Waltz at least has some fun with his character.
Screenwriter Richard LaGravenese has made a career of turning popular books into great movies. The Horse Whisperer and The Bridges of Madison County are among them. Those two films were outstanding. This one isn’t.
He bases Water for Elephants on Sara Gruen’s popular novel. LaGravenese combines characters, chops up Gruen’s plot and the changes he makes lead to big gaps in what little flow this film possesses.
Another difference? Robert Redford directed The Horse Whisperer and Clint Eastwood did Bridges. Water for Elephants is directed by Francis Lawrence whose resume includes the dreadful horror flicks I Am Legend and Constantine and a bunch of music videos.
While it is fair to say that is film is beautifully shot, Lawrence has no sense of story or how to pace a movie. If slow could be solidified it would look like Water for Elephants. It treks across the screen like the slow train that takes the circus performers to their next destination.
And you know a movie is in deep, deep trouble when the only character you like and can relate to is an elephant with no speaking lines.
The bottom line on this one: Elephants never forget but people can. Forget this one.
Mr. Movie rating: 2 stars
Rated PG-13 for mature themes. It opens Friday, April 22nd at the Carmike 12 and the Fairchild Cinemas 12.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.