Opens April 22, 2011
They say elephants never forget. But dehydrated elephants can become irritable and confused and, potentially, lose consciousness. And this movie may have a similar effect on you.
In all fairness, Water for Elephants, based on the best-selling book also titled (coincidentally) Water for Elephants, is probably the greatest circus-based movie to be released this year. Set in Depression Era America, it’s a fairly generic story of a magic vampire who survives “the most famous circus disaster of all time”, as well as an awkward love triangle including a pachyderm.
Hal Holbrook appears (in the present) as a magic old man at a truck stop/circus, where he proceeds to relate his tales of lost love and late-night poker games with members of the freakshow. Robert Pattinson portrays the younger version of Holbrook’s character, a vampire carnie named (wait for it) Jacob, who joins the Benzini Brothers Circus in search of fame, fortune and delicious platelets. Both performances are rather strong, provided Old Jacob is supposed to be suffering from dementia and Young Jacob is described in the script as an extremely pale, brooding Brit with a penchant for biting necks. If so… boom. Nailed it.
So, everything’s going great until Young Jacob is wandering in a fog (literal and figurative) and meets Marlena, played by Reese Witherspoon, as she dances inappropriately with a horse. Witherspoon’s performance is, unfortunately, rather wooden and stilted and her relationship with the horse is lacking any sort of chemistry one would hope to have seen from two accomplished actors.
After the obligatory long looks exchanged between the two young stars, the entire circus packs up (with little explanation, although there is some speculation that old people were disappearing from a nearby nursing home and leaving town under the cover of night seemed like the best option) and travels by train into a magic tunnel. On the other side of the tunnel, Young Jacob and Marlena encounter the elephant, as well as creepy ringmaster August (Christoph Waltz), who, in typical pre-Feminist Movement fashion, man-handles Marlena and makes her his girl, according to playground rules. The usual dynamic plays out, where Young Jacob and Marlena make googly eyes, August threatens Young Jacob but is frightened off by the birthmark on Young Jacob’s arm that foretells of a horrible prophecy, and Young Jacob and Marlena take a champagne bath to consummate their new relationship. Finally, Young Jacob forces the elephant to bow down to him and kiss his feet, effectively making him King Vampire of the Circus.
In all honesty, I found myself checking my watch midway through the trailer. And I didn’t even own a watch. I had to pause the trailer and buy one just to check it. The entire plot feels old and worn-out, like an elephant’s skin. Especially a dehydrated elephant, whose skin would lack any elasticity due to its lack of water. And you don’t want to support the withholding of water from elephants, do you?
You’ve seen this movie before. Even if you haven’t, you got what you needed from the trailer. Unless you’re like a chick or something, then you’ll probably dig it.