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posted: 6/20/2013 6:00 AM

'Much Ado About Nothing' a mixed bag

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  • Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and Beatrice (Amy Acker) engage in a merry war of words in Joss Whedon's contemporary reworking of William Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing."

      Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and Beatrice (Amy Acker) engage in a merry war of words in Joss Whedon's contemporary reworking of William Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing."

  • Video: Much Ado About Nothing trailer

 
 

Reel Life mini-review: 'Much Ado About Nothing'

Famed action movie director Joss "The Avengers" Whedon shot this contemporary reworking of William Shakespeare's comedy as a black-and-white sitcom in 12 days, using his own house as the set.

This bold production of "Much Ado About Nothing" uses the Bard's original text, now given a new spin as warriors return to their homelands in black limousines while using cellphones.

The more literal-minded medium of movies doesn't quite mesh 21st-century trappings with 15th-century references and titles.

But effective actors can render these surface inconsistencies invisible, and there's the rub: They don't quite do it here.

The success of any "Much Ado" production depends upon the combustible chemistry between confirmed bachelor Benedick and the sharp-tongued Beatrice as they engage in a merry war of words.

Amy Acker is more than up to snuff when it comes to verbal fencing and tossing off the Bard's dialogue with natural, conversational ease.

Not so Alexis Denisof as Benedick, a stiff character too aware of spouting Shakespearean lines while almost posing to deliver them.

Finding that sweet spot between theatricality and naturalness is the challenge for actors tackling the Bard. (Even Keanu Reeves and Denzel Washington didn't quite nail it in Kenneth Branagh's excellent 1993 period version.)

Nathan Fillion's comically fumbling constable Dogberry highlights this movie (as much as Michael Keaton did for Branagh's version).

Fran Kranz and Jillian Morgese turn on the charm respectively as the lovestruck Claudio and his amorous target, the big-hearted Hero. (Both will be temporarily thwarted in romance by Sean Maher's villainous Don John.)

Whedon keeps the pace brisk. And what would a Shakespearean update be without its own Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. along for the ride: Clark Gregg's Leonato?

"Much Ado About Nothing" opens at the Century Centre in Chicago and the Evanston CineArts 6. Rated PG-13 for drug use and sexual situations. 109 minutes. ★ ★

Dann too jaded?

Dear Dann:Well,here we go again. After reading your review of "Man of Steel," I was wondering if I was going to be disappointed in the performances. Now, usually, I agree with your reviews. But you couldn't be more off base with this one.This film had action,excitement and heart.

With apologies to Christopher Reeve, this was the best Superman entry of them all!

If you want use "Goethe's Three Questions of Arts Criticism: 1) What did the artist attempt to achieve? A retelling story of a heroic legend.

2) How successful was the artist in achieving it?Home run!

3) Was what the artist attempted to achieve worth attempting in the first place?

Since I as a member of the audience was both moved and excited by the quality of the story and the actors performing it, (heck) yes!

Are you so jaded from seeing these films so much you can no longer just sit back and enjoy quality work?Better luck next time. -- Brian E. Skol

Dear Brian: I could well be jaded. In denial, too. We'll just have to disagree on this one. The characters' relationships never worked for me.

All Jonathan Kent did was lecture his son about his specialness and his duty. Hey, play catch with the boy! Go fishing! Do something that dads are supposed to do! He never acts like a dad, just a figure spouting information to push the narrative along.

The forced kiss between Super and Lois? Are you kidding me? Zack Snyder laid no emotional groundwork for that to occur with any sincerity or spontaneity. Amy Adams and Henry Cavill just followed the cues in the script.

But I will grant "Man of Steel" this: cool visual effects.

Daily Herald Film Critic Dann Gire's column runs Fridays in Time out!

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