Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Princess Bride: A fairy tale like all others

I've just watched The Princess Bride, Rob Reiner's 1987 action-comedy-romance-fantasy-drama, and I feel slightly underwhelmed. Over the years I have received a number of sharp looks from people (tho' not from the kind lady who leant me the DVD) for not having seen it, so of course I figured it must be the new Mahler's 2nd or King Lear.

It's clearly a popular movie, since it's currently sitting 140th in the IMBd's top 250 films of all time (tho' given that it's just below 2004's abominable Crash, I'm not sure how to take this). Indeed, people rave about it, so I thought I should watch it just to check.

Don't get me wrong: it's not a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination. No-one drops a Spanish accent halfway through a line. You don't see the boom mikes bobbing into shot. Even the overwhelming cheesiness is part of its charm, since it is the tale of a princess, a farm boy, true love, pirates and a wicked prince. Any more details of the plot would be superfluous.

I just fail to see what makes it so special. It's funny, but not too funny. It's enjoyable, but not too enjoyable. It's romantic, but not too romantic. It is, in essence, every Rob Reiner movie ever. Billy Crystal doing his old-Jewish-guy shtick as Max the Miracle Worker is reasonably funny, and Mandy Patinkin gets some laughs as the Spanish rogue trying to avenge his father's death. But most of the script either isn't directed at comedy or just isn't funny.

The same applies for all other aspects. The romance between Buttercup (Robin Wright) and Westley (a badly-moustached swashbuckling Cary Elwes) isn't earth-shakingly believable, and the chemistry is on the frothy side: less an explosive reaction, more a faint effervescence. The action is fine if not innovative or likely to set the heart racing. The plot is more predictable than our current rainy bank holiday weekend.

I yield to no man in my admiration for Peter Falk - just consider all the lunchtimes happily wasted watching Columbo - with his gruff voice and avuncular charm. But all he does here is narrate the fairy tale to his sick grandson, who has all the appropriate reactions for a seven-year old: boo, kissing! Yeah, fighting!

The biggest reason for this film's mediocrity (other than its mediocre script and acting) is one particular celluloid predecessor: it stands in the shadow of Monty Python and the Holy Grail and looks tepid by comparison. The Holy Grail is the gold standard for action-comedy-fairy-tale movies and you need to go a long way to surpass it. Unfortunately, Rob Reiner is no Monty Python. The Princess Bride, for all its cult appeal, seems directed at those (like the seven-year old) hearing such a tale for the first time. For all others, it's been done before, much better.

1 comment:

duke said...

Agreed. It just isn't that funny. I don't understand why people are so obsessed with it.