THE MAN WHO CRIED —* 1/2 — Christina Ricci, Cate Blanchett, Johnny Depp, John Turturro, Harry Dean Stanton, Oleg Yankovskiy, Claudia Lander-Duke, Miriam Karlin; rated R (sex, violence, vulgarity, ethnic slurs, profanity); exclusively at the Tower Theatre.
Her movie career hasn't lasted all that long, yet Aussie actress Cate Blanchett has established herself as someone who could make something as mundane as reading the telephone book aloud compelling.
When even she can't make a movie like "The Man Who Cried" interesting, you know the film in question has got to be worse than mediocre — it's an embarrassment for all those involved.
In all fairness to Blanchett, the movie's not about her character. Instead, it's a star vehicle for the less-than-charismatic Christina Ricci, who can't hold audience interest for more than about five minutes, especially when she's stuck with material as superficial and slow-moving as this period drama.
And truth be told, the ineptitude of the filmmaking seems to indicate that it's not the dull 1997 vanity piece "The Tango Lesson" that's the anomaly on director Sally Potter's resume, it's 1992's "Orlando," which still stands as the best thing she's done to date.
The film never makes clear to whom the title refers, but it's likely a Russian cantor (Oleg Yankovskiy) who abandons his mother and young daughter (Claudia Lander-Duke) to go to America.
And although the girl, Fegele, means to go there as well to find her father, she instead winds up in England, where she's taught to "fit in" — first by taking the name Suzie and then learning to speak and sing in English.
However, her remarkable singing talent takes the now teenaged Suzie (Ricci) to Paris, where she befriends a fellow Russian immigrant, a cabaret dancer named Lola (Blanchett) who dreams of big things for the two of them.
Using her feminine wiles, Lola lands them jobs in an opera company, where she romances an egotistical opera singer (an over-the-top John Turturro) and Suzie finds herself falling under the sway of a charismatic gypsy (Johnny Depp, essentially reprising his "Chocolat" role).
There are a few promising story threads here, but none of them really go anywhere, and Potter wraps things up in a conveniently quick and unsatisfying fashion.
Then there are the cast's odd and conflicting accents — the most glaring of which is Ricci's unconvincing, affected English accent. (Even though Blanchett sounds ominously like Natasha Fatale, from the "Rocky & Bullwinkle" cartoon, her performance is still watchable.)
"The Man Who Cried" is rated R for scenes of simulated sex, wartime violence (both seen and overheard), lewd dancing and sexually suggestive talk, as well as scattered use of ethnic slurs and profanity. Running time: 97 minutes.