Romeo & Juliet (PG-13) Carlo Carlei’s Romeo & Juliet makes a mere two hours feel like two full days. I do not for a moment deny that this is a notable accomplishment. At the same time, I doubt it could be called a desirable one. I don’t care all that much that screenwriter Julian Fellowes has taken a crack at “improving” the play’s dialogue — even to the extent of such dubious additions as “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” and “My back is killing me.” This, after all, is something like the Classics Illustrated comic book version of the play, so reducing the dialogue to a point where it might comfortably fit inside cartoon balloons makes a kind of perverse sense. It would make more sense perhaps if the film was actually radical in its approach, but about as wild as this version gets is to stick that ampersand in the title. This is pretty namby-pamby stuff that wants us to think it’s the Bard’s whiskers of fealty. I should probably admit that Shakespeare’s yarn about these two rash teenagers whose hormonal urges get the better of their reason is not high on my list of his plays. Still, there are ways to present it and make it work. Whether it’s approached with stodgy reverence, a picture book sensibility, or giddy radical romanticism, what it absolutely has to do is make us care about the title characters. And this is one thing this latest attempt fails at miserably. Juliet (Hailee Steinfeld) is just plain dull and Romeo (Douglas Booth) is little more than pouty male model window dressing — and both come across like they’re too impressed with having memorized the dialogue to worry about feeling it. They’re like animatronic figures at a Disney World attraction. The film just drones on and on and on, ending up, I suppose, as a safe movie version English teachers can show in classrooms to make sure that students never pick up Shakespeare again. I was relieved that afterwards I could wander down to hall and see Machete Kills — if only the two could have been combined as Machete Kills Romeo & Juliet, then we might have something.
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