Out Of Tune

It's not hard to see why the ingredients of Louis De Bernieres's novel "Corelli's Mandolin" looked like surefire movie material. Set on a beautiful Greek island torn apart by World War II, this darkly satiric epic has comedy, drama, a love story, occupying armies of amiable Italians and nasty Nazis, horrific war scenes and an earthquake to boot. On-screen, adapted by Shawn Slovo, directed by John ("Shakespeare in Love") Madden and rechristened "Captain Corelli's Mandolin," all these goodies are crammed into an overproduced jumble that searches vainly for a proper tone.

Not surprisingly, the movie emphasizes the love triangle between the beautiful Pelagia (Penelope Cruz), who's the daughter of a local doctor (John Hurt), and the two men who love her--a fisherman turned partisan (Christian Bale) and the captain of the occupying Italian forces, the humanistic, music-loving Corelli (Nicolas Cage). Problem is, every role is miscast. Whose idea was it to have the boyishly British Bale play an illiterate Greek peasant, or the elegant Hurt a gruff-voiced country doctor? Cruz's run of bad luck in American movies continues. Pretty as she is, she never seems to connect deeply with her romantic costars, and Cage--fighting a gallant, losing battle with an Italian accent--is no exception. The best performance is David Morrissey's as a sensitive German officer caught in a vise when the Nazis viciously turn on their former allies--the only scenes in this would-be prestige movie that stir up any genuine passion.

Captain Corelli's MandolinUniversal Pictures
Opens Aug. 17