On the internet, all that the geek fan boys want to know about this historical romance is whether hottie Penélope Cruz bares her breasts. Yes, guys, she does, if only for a moment. On the literary circuit, admirers of this best seller by Louis de Bernières want to know whether the movie captures the flavor of the novel. Yes, readers, it does, if only for a moment. Like so many page-to-screen transfers, Captain Corelli's Mandolin has had its vitality, scope and internal logic abridged, not to mention its gay subplot. Director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) and screenwriter Shawn Slovo (A World Apart) have hacked the book down into something picturesque, respectful and emotionally flat.
Things start on an intriguing note as World War II invades the quiet Greek island of Cephallonia, and Corelli (Nicolas Cage), an Italian captain, is billeted at the home of Dr. Iannis (John Hurt) and his daughter Pelagia (Penèlope Cruz). Resentment is thick, since Pelagia and her fisherman fiancé, Mandras (Christian Bale), a Greek partisan, despise the occupying armies of Italy and Germany. But Corelli, an opera-singing, mandolin-strumming free spirit, has an open-faced charm that seduces Pelagia and incites a town that punishes girls who consort with the enemy.
It's no strain to see where this is going. The strain is all on the actors. Cage struggles with his Italian accent. The Welsh-born Bale, who excels at chilly anti-heroes (American Psycho), loses the battle of persuasively embodying a soulful Greek. Cruz, the Spanish beauty, fits into the setting with greater ease, but she seems equally unreceptive to the weak romantic vibes given off by Cage and Bale. That leaves whatever scenes worth stealing to Hurt, who brings glimmers of much-needed humor to a film that ends up embalmed by its own nobility.