Okay, which idiot came up with the idea of casting Russell Crowe as Patrick O’Brian’s Captain “Lucky” Jack Aubrey in the film “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World”? With his bleached-blonde hair tied in a sloppy ponytail, a chunky torso in need of several weeks of Atkins Diet discipline, and a coarse Australian accent, Crowe is the least likely British naval officer to sail the cinematic seas since Marlon Brando in “Mutiny on the Bounty.”
But whereas Brando camped up his performance with zany glee, Crowe lumbers and slumbers his way on-screen with so little gusto that he seems sedated. In fact, the whole film has a sedative effective. The action takes place on the HMS Surprise, but there is nary a surprise to be found anywhere here. The story is so connect-the-dots predictable that one can walk away from the film for 15 or 20 minutes at a time and return knowing exactly where the story is.
It seems as if every possible cliche and story twist from any seafaring picture of the past 80 years made its way into this flick (the storm at sea, the cannon battle, the us-versus-them conflicts between officers and ship crew). There are also a few new silly twists added including an anachronistic pitstop at the Galapagos Islands to take credit for Charles Darwin’s work and endless in-the-ribs/between-the-shoulder blades bickering between Captain Aubrey and the ship’s surgeon Stephen Maturing (played with prickly indifference by Paul Bettany) that makes the men seem as ridiculous as the old queens played by Rex Harrison and Richard Burton in “Staircase.” All that is missing is the white whale, although Crowe’s waistline suggests he was trying to fill that nautical void for us.
I will confess that after 30 minutes of this film, my mind began wandering away from the screen and after an hour I was yawning so loud that the gent
seated next to me at the screening offered to wake me in the event my eyelids surrendered. Had I been able to pay more attention to this hopelessly boring movie, there would be more insults and putdowns flung at those responsible for this mess. The fact that I didn’t bother to pay attention is, I fear, even more insulting than any wisecrack derived from watching the screen.
It took three studios (Universal, Miramax and 20th Century Fox) to produce this movie. Peter Weir, who once made intelligent and original films like “Picnic at Hanging Rock” and “Gallipoli,” directed it. I’ll gladly take the toy boat action of “Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd” instead.