V for Vendetta, James McTeigue, Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, Wachowski. Review by Rob Blackwelder ©Bijou Graffiti
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 TRITE TERRORIST  by Rob Blackwelder
A scene from 'V for Vendetta'
"V for Vendetta"
 Grade: D (drivel) (132m | R)  
Directed by James McTeigue

Starring Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry, John Hurt, Tim Pigott-Smith, Rupert Graves, Roger Allam, Ben Miles, Sinead Cusack, Natasha Wightman

 WIDE: Thursday, March 16, 2006

A ham-fisted mash-up of "1984" and "Phantom of the Opera," with all the political nuance of a three-ring circus, "V for Vendetta" attempts to show the action-movie masses what the world might be like in 20 or 30 years if fear-mongering, religion-bating right-wing propagandists keep their choke-hold on governmental power. But it's so absurdly rococo and overly simplistic that the end result is nothing short of laughable.

The setting is a totalitarian London in the years after the collapse of the United States. The villain (John Hurt) is a wrinkly, vein-popping, vitriol-spewing, all-powerful chancellor of Great Britain who is every bit as overwrought and ridiculous as the Anti-Christ United Nations president in the "Left Behind" movies (horribly-acted, low-budget, Revelations-based thrillers made for the fundamentalist Christian market).

The movie's anti-hero is a disfigured, psychologically scarred vigilante (Hugo Weaving - Agent Smith from the "Matrix" movies) in a theatrical black cape and Snidely-Whiplash-meets-harlequin-doll mask meant to evoke the spirit of Guy Fawkes, an infamous 17th-century saboteur whose attempt to blow up Parliament also inspires "V," as he becomes known.

And our heroine is Evey (Natalie Portman), a young woman who gets caught up in V's web and becomes an obsessive object of his the-ends-justify-the-means indoctrination. Usually a radiant talent, even in movies that don't rise to her level, Portman seems to be pay-checking her way through the stock victim-to-heroine motions, as V keeps her locked up in his well-appointed underground bunker full of contraband like juke boxes, sculpture and old movie posters.

But I'd still rather spend time with a weak Portman and her vacillating English accent than suffer through the floridly purple prose of V's endless pontification. He barely stops spouting poetry, Shakespeare and rhetorical claptrap long enough to slice up scores of goose-stepping soldiers during badly edited massacres, using only the half-dozen rapiers he keeps on his belt.

Once the film throws in, on the side of evil, a cartoonishly spiteful TV-news blowhard (who makes Bill O'Reilly look almost rational) and a child-molesting church cardinal (both part of a Giant Conspiracy, of course) -- then adds, on the side of good, a secretly gay late-night chat-show host (Stephen Fry) who reads the (illegal) Koran because "its images are beautiful" -- "V for Vendetta" becomes so ludicrous and heavy-handed that it proves the filmmakers have no faith in their audience's intelligence.

Of course, considering that said filmmakers are writers-producers Andy and Larry Wachowski (who ruined their own "Matrix" franchise with similar overkill) and director James McTeigue (the Wachowskis' former assistant director), it's no surprise that this flick became such a mess that Alan Moore, the author of the 1980s graphic novels on which its based, has disavowed their adaptation.

If this subject matter and action-flick values are your cup of tea, try renting 2002's "Equilibrium." That festering bomb starring Christian Bale is at least as derivative, at least as hyperbolical and at least as inept, but has the benefit of being unintentionally and uncontrollably hilarious.

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