Final Score: O,What A Pity

Completed in 1999, "O" has been bounced from distributor to distributor like a hot potato. This re-setting of "Othello" in an American high school was deemed too inflammatory after Columbine. Yes, there's a big body count (that Bard did like his bloody finales), but why this display of gore should be any more problematic than a dozen others is a mystery to me.

The other mystery, however, is why anybody thought transposing this Shakespeare tragedy of jealousy, pride and evil into high-school terms was such a hot idea. Frankly, I've always found the melodramatic "plot" of "Othello" torturous to sit through. What's great about it is the language, and that's nowhere to be found in director Tim Blake Nelson and writer Brad Kaaya's ambitious but muddled movie. Othello is now high-school basketball star Odin (Mekhi Phifer), the only black student at an elite prep school. Desdemona is Desi (Julia Stiles), and the evil Iago becomes Hugo (Josh Hartnett), Odin's overlooked teammate and the son of the team's coach (Martin Sheen), who fawns over his star while neglecting his son.

The actors attack their roles with commitment (Hartnett's understatement is impressive), but their fervor can't hide the movie's implausible, often confusing storytelling. Director Nelson has talent when his pretensions don't get the better of him (what's with all the hawk metaphors?). But this arty melodrama is not likely to make teenage America get down with Shakespeare.

OLions Gate Films
Opens Aug. 31