Bored by the Bard? Tired of sorting out kings, queens and cousins in history plays like Richard III? Step up and let Al Pacino restore your faith in English lit. In two hours, methinks he'll have you talking in iambic pentameter. Yes, gang, it's Shakespeare for the stupid.
I'm kidding. But the notion of Pacino making his directing debut with a film in which he and a starry cast, including Winona Ryder, Kevin Spacey and Alec Baldwin, perform snippets of Richard III interspersed with actors rehearsing and kibitzing, and Pacino quizzing strangers on the street, does sound mighty patronizing.
Damn, though, if the film doesn't work like a charm. Pacino has been fine-tuning his labor of love (he shot 80 hours of footage) for four years. His look changes from Scent of a Woman (cleanshaven) to Carlito's Way (bearded), but his ardor and deflating wit burn steadily on high flame. He shares his feelings with other Richards (Kenneth Branagh, Kevin Kline, a wicked Sir John Gielgud) who have boldly knocked the hunchbacked king off his pedestal to find a pulse. Pacino rises so thrillingly to the dare, you want to see more interpretations. Bring on that just-discovered 1912 silent-film version of the play. Pacino makes looking for Richard a great adventure and outrageous fun.