Columbus As A Hollywood Hustler

Alexander and Ilya Salkind's Christopher Columbus: the Discovery has beaten Ridley Scott's "1492" to the screen by a couple of months, but it's not an occasion for trumpets. A perfunctory historical epic with no clear point of view, it makes one long for the hokey old Hollywood swashbucklers that at least generated some star power. George Corraface plays the determined Genoan explorer (here called by his Spanish moniker, Cristobal Colon) as a Hollywood hustler with a cocky, lounge-lizard grin and a way with women. He pitches his highconcept voyage (The world is round! We'll sail west to China!) to Queen Isabella of Spain, portrayed by Rachel Ward as a bright-eyed Jesus freak with hormones raging under her breastplate. She green-lights the trip, over the objections of Marlon Brando's heretic-sniffing Torquemada and Tom Selleck's petulant, sleepy King Ferdinand, but by the time the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria set sail, half the movie is over and the audience is ready to jump ship.

Things pick up slightly on the high seas, where screenwriters Mario Puzo, John Briley and Cary Bates brazenly invent sabotaging villains and mutiny attempts. On the far side of the Atlantic, where the story should really get interesting, director John Glen trots out the usual bevy of bare-breasted native women, hints at the degradations the Spanish wreaked on the Indians and hops back to Spain for a hollowly triumphant conclusion. What are we left with? A characterless movie that seems to have been made for no better reason than the marketing ploy of a 500th anniversary. What's noticeably absent is the vision thing.

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