Francis Ford Coppola's first film in ten years is a welcome change from the journeyman work he did in the 1990s, which reached its nadir with the Robin Williams comedy JACK (1996). But it's far from a return to form: Coppola's eye for vividly composed images is undiminished, but the story is an unfocussed hodge-podge of mystical musings and Twilight Zone-ish occurances.
Budapest, 1938: 70-year-old Romanian linguistics professor Dominic Matei (Tim Roth) looks back on a life he wishes he'd lived differently. As a young man, he drove away his great love, Laura (Alexandra Maria Lara), by immersing himself in research into the origins of language. He dedicated his life to writing a book he never finished, and is now old, alone and regarded as a senile fool by his students. Having decided to commit suicide, Dominic instead gets a cosmic do-over after being struck by lightning. Burned from head to foot, he's placed in the care of Dr. Roman Stanciulescu (Bruno Ganz) and expected to die. Instead, Dominic is miraculously rejuvenated, much to the delight of his saucy nurses and the wanton wench with swastika-print garters (Alexandra Pirici) in the adjoining room. Dominic is soon forced to assume the first of many false identities and flee to Switzerland, with cackling Nazi doctor Josef Rudolf (Andre M. Hennicke), who has mad ideas about evolution by electrocution, hard on his heels. Dominic gradually learns that he can speak dozens of languages, suck the knowledge from books just by passing his hands over them, predict the outcome of roulette games and manipulate the minds of others, and that he has a disagreeable doppelganger who lives -- if that's the word -- to annoy him. He eventually crosses paths with fresh-faced schoolteacher Veronica (also Lara), a dead ringer for Laura, while hiking outside post-war Geneva. Moments later, Veronica is struck by lightning, and awakes inhabited by the soul of a 7th-century Indian mystic named Rupini, a turn of events that adds transmigration of souls and past-life regression to the mix.
Adapted from the novel by Romanian writer Mircea Eliade, Coppola's awkward screenplay never finds its tone -- or perhaps it deliberately evokes the pulp conventions of WWII adventures, horror films, weepy melodrama, psychological mysteries and superhero origin stories as a way of evoking the fundamental artificiality of the cinema. Either way, it never comes together into a cohesive whole, and is seriously undermined by Roth's morose performance, which makes it hard to care how his trip down the rabbit hole resolves itself. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh