Talking to strangers is totally fine, especially if those strangers are amnesiac Colin Farrells. With a friendly and dopily disarming gaze, Colin made us believe he was a brainwashed victim in 2012’s Total Recall. Now in 2014’s romantic zombie comedy—Winter’s Tale—he plays a totally convincing angel-zombie, who also isn’t sure what his name is or if he’s any good at robbing people. Here, Farrell with the help of Jessica Brown Findlay (Lady Sybil) brings home the most romantic Valentine’s Day message of all: Will Smith is Satan!
SPOILERS for Winter’s Tale (and maybe The Fresh-Prince of Bel Air)
A beloved novel being brutally defiled while the collective culture sits by idly is really nothing new—Endless Love (1979 National Book Award Nominee) just came out too—so let’s give Winter’s Tale a break for a second on being a terrible adaptation. It’s too easy to say “the book was better,” because a book being “better” is almost untrue half of the time. Look, I love literacy and think everyone should skip the movie Winter’s Tale and read the book instead, but saying something is bad because it’s a poor adaptation is lazy. Jaws is a poor adaptation of the Peter Benchley novel and it’s a great film. Baz Luhrmann’s Great Gatsby from last year is a fairly faithful adaptation, but certainly no cinematic classic. So, let’s just get real: a movie is a movie and a book is a book, and both mediums have to stand on their own merits. The relative quality of the source material and its funneling into the film version certainly plays a role, but it’s not everything.
Or to put it another way, just saying Winter’s Tale is a shameful adaption of the wonderful Helprin novel is poor analysis of why this movie is such a drag. The movie is bad all on its own!
Thought not technically a zombie movie, the actors here might as well be. Russell Crowe is pulling several under-bite faces which seem to be some kind of wind-up-toy version of a bad guy, or at the very least, a misplaced send-up of the Ricky Gervais alter-ego Mr. Stokes from Extras. William Hurt is hanging out in the movie daring you to believe he’s not just walked straight off the set of A.I., and poor Farrell mopes about staring at Jennifer Connely as they both wonder what actually has happened to their careers.
To be fair, neither Farrell or Connelly are particularly bad here per se, it’s just that the tone of the film is so schizophrenic, that a normal person doesn’t have time really to do anything but say “hey look, there’s a famous person!” in the same way you might play a game of slug-bug as a child. Toward the end of the movie, Colin Farrell brutally murders Russell Crowe in front of a sleeping, small child, and then in 45 seconds is using his magical healing powers to save said child.
There’s something about the way these scenes are edited and paced that makes me think each scene had a mind of its own and sort of got together with the other scenes to make a series of sequences which these sentient clips of film decided to call “a movie.” I assume this because a human being could not, in good conscience, actually have edited things together this way. If you’ve seen Winter’s Tale, I think you’ll agree with the following: it’s better to assume this movie is a freak-accident of sentient film springing into existence, rather than accept the fact that real live people made all these decisions.
Which brings me to the scenes in which Lucifer is played by Will Smith. Okay. Writing this and telling you the casting of Will Smith as Lucifer sort of causes me to want to tell you this is a genius move since we’ve all known Will Smith has been the devil all along. And you know what, right now I can already hear someone at a party ironically telling me that it’s genius Will Smith was the devil. But it wasn’t. It was stupid and it made no sense and I think he was wearing a Prince t-shirt. I like Prince, I like Will Smith, I like Mark Helprin, but not all in the same movie, okay? The only useful piece of information I discovered from all of this was exactly where in Brooklyn the devil lives, which is apparently right under the archway near the Manhattan Bridge, which is really handy because I’m over there a lot and maybe I’ll get to meet him someday.
So, what of Lady Sybil? Now that’s she’s back from the dead, it seems she’s still interested in Irishmen and people who are really not in her social class. She looks fairly convincing as a redhead and her Scarlett Johansson-with-an-English- accent-coming-out-of-box-of-Kleenex voice is still as affecting, adorable and as genuine as it was on Downton Abbey. No joke here. I think Jessica Brown Findlay is coming out a winner on this one, and despite the overall crappiness (Will Smith is the devil? Did I mention?) of the film, I wouldn’t be surprised if she didn’t find her way into the hearts of tons of teenagers who went to see this movie on Valentine’s Day.
For that, I can give Winter’s Tale a pass: you might not totally hate it if you are 14 years old and on a first date. But for the rest of us, no amount of light refraction, believing in your dreams, or flying white horses can save us from snoozefest that this movie encourages. Because if we insist on going back to that old book vs. movie argument, the snooze-criterion is one that works every time. And the novel version of Winter’s Tale isn’t boring.
Ryan Britt is a longtime contributor to Tor.com.