Don't be swayed by the title: The forced and far-fetched Winter's Tale should not be confused with Shakespeare's similarly titled play.
It's also not a worthy adaptation of Mark Helprin's acclaimed 1983 novel, on which the saga is based.
This sappy, time-traveling love story (** out of four; rated PG-13; opens Friday nationwide) seems instead as if it sprang from the pages of a Harlequin romance.
Not only is the story of magic, angels, demons and predetermined destiny preposterous, but the characters are also unconvincing and the dialogue sanctimonious. "Everything is connected by light," intones the grating narration. But, in this elaborate flight of fancy set in New York City, the blend of fantasy and reality is disconnected and convoluted.
Destinies cross and an unlikely pair falls in love while Satan and his henchmen lurk ominously.
Oscar-winning screenwriter Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind) makes his directorial debut with this overly ambitious saga that awkwardly combines imagery fromChristianity, Greek mythology, New Age notions, fairy tales, magical realism and TV'sTouched by an Angel. Goldsman seems unsure what story he's telling: a timeless romance or a sci-fi thriller? He doesn't accomplish either.
The cast is impressive, but hamstrung by the inane plot. Despite a bad haircut, the actor who best acquits himself is Colin Farrell who plays Peter Lake, a thief who falls in love with tuberculosis-stricken heiress Beverly Penn (Downton Abbey's Jessica Brown Findlay). The pair has moments of chemistry, though it's hard to understand why she's enchanted rather than dismayed when she stumbles on Peter burglarizing her family's mansion. She's struggling with a deadly illness and Peter is a marked man, hunted by the diabolical Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe). The scar-faced Soames works for the big bad guy himself, Lucifer (Will Smith).
Peter was abandoned as a baby in 1895 when his sickly immigrant parents were turned away at Ellis Island. They left him at sea sailing toward New York in a basket, Moses-style, as they returned to Europe. Soames tutored Peter in the art of thievery, but in his early 20s, the charming Peter is trying to go legit.
Peter spends a good portion of his time inexplicably lurking in the rafters of Grand Central Station, both in the early 1900s and again in 2014. Despite the passage of a century, he doesn't age. He has, however, lost the bad haircut and grown a beard. A sub-plot involving his association with a sickly little girl named Abby (Ripley Sobo) and her mother Virginia (Jennifer Connelly) makes up most of the contemporary portion of the story, during which Peter is still plagued by Pearly.
It's all patently absurd, depicted in a simultaneously solemn and sloppy fashion. Peter is saved from the clutches of Pearly and his minions by a mystical white steed that gallops by in the nick of time and swoops him up. The Pegasus-like horse then flies over Manhattan, with Peter hanging on for dear life. They become partners. Peter chats up his equine savior, addressing him unimaginatively as "Horse." The stallion nods when Peter talks to him. You half expect to hear the creature speak in a throaty vibrato (but thankfully, the film stops short of Mr. Ed turf).
Lurching back and forth through time, Winter's Tale tries to blend the supernatural and the sentimental, with a synchronous nod to elements of New York history. But this would-be magical romance flounders, hitting only dissonant chords.