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Film review: Changes in tone do no favors for ‘Casanova’

Movie amuses, but its split personality often is jarring

SHARE Film review: Changes in tone do no favors for ‘Casanova’
Sienna Miller and Heath Ledger sometimes generate sparks in Casanova," but it is the supporting cast that often steals scenes.

Sienna Miller and Heath Ledger sometimes generate sparks in Casanova,” but it is the supporting cast that often steals scenes.

Touchstone Pictures

CASANOVA — ** 1/2 — Heath Ledger, Sienna Miller, Oliver Platt; rated R (violence, vulgarity, brief sex, mild profanity, torture, nude artwork).

At times, "Casanova" is amusing in a completely different way than the filmmakers intended it to be.

Make no mistake about it, the film is amusing. However, the biggest problem about this comedy is that it starts out as fairly subtle but then gets broader, more frantic and farcical, as it goes. In fact, the final 30 or so minutes are so goofy and over the top that it feels like a Monty Python film was spliced onto it.

It's watchable and is occasionally entertaining, but there's very much a split personality here.

Heath Ledger stars in this period piece as the legendary ladies man Giacomo Casanova. According to this highly fictionalized version of events, his life was changed forever when he met the beautiful Francesca Bruni (Sienna Miller).

Francesca is cultured and has a mind of her own, which only makes this lothario want her more. But he's supposed to be marrying another woman, to keep the Inquisition and Bishop Pucci (Jeremy Irons) off his back.

As it turns out, Francesca is betrothed as well, to the gluttonous Lord Papprizzio (Oliver Platt). It's an arrangement that is supposed to benefit her financially strapped family — especially her avaricious mother (Lena Olin).

Screenwriters Jeffrey Hatcher and Kimberly Simi also throw in humor about identity confusion and social commentary about male-dominated society in 18th-century Venice.

The changes in tone are a bit jarring but it is still a nice change of pace for director Lasse Hallstrom. This film is more reminiscent of his earlier work, such as 1985's "My Life as a Dog," rather than the more dramatic features he's done of late, including "An Unfinished Life."

And while the pairing of Ledger and Miller doesn't strike as many sparks as you might hope for, the supporting cast picks up the slack. British comedian Omid Djalili steals scenes as Casanova's exasperated valet, and Irons and Platt appear to be having an "act-off." Their hammy turns and continually changing accents are perversely funny.

"Casanova" is rated R for scenes of violence (including sword fighting, as well as some comic, slapstick violence), sexually suggestive talk and use of crude sexual slang terms, brief simulated sex and other sexual contact, scattered use of mild profanity (mostly religiously based), a brief torture scene (done for laughs), and glimpses of nude artwork. Running time: 108 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com