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"Miracle at St. Anna"

Directed by Spike Lee.
Written by James McBride.  Based on the novel by James McBride.
Starring Derek Luke, Michael Ealy, Laz Alonso and Matteo Sciabordi.
Release Year:  2008
Review Date:  9/29/08


In terms of my expectations, the subject matter, the director and the cast, "Miracle at St. Anna" is maybe the most disappointing film I have seen this year.  How disappointing?  Here's a great example: Michael K. Williams, the guy that played Omar from "The Wire"--widely considered the best recurring character actor on that show--gets offed in his first scene of this movie, 20 minutes in and about 140 minutes from the ending.

Spike Lee directed this opus based on the novel by James McBride (the film was also written by McBride, normally a good sign), and the main story involves four Buffalo Soldier troops (black regiments during WWII) who rescue an Italian child after a battle against entrenched Nazi soldiers in 1944.  The foursome take the child first to Tuscany, then to a small town near St. Anna, where they hole up while awaiting orders from their command units.  It's during this time that the film quietly dies as we watch the soldiers deal with the Italians living in this town, in-fighting amongst each other, rogue Italian freedom fighters, and Nazis, as well as the growing relationship between the boy and the soldier who rescued him, PFC Sam Train (Omar Benson Miller).

This is all set up by a shooting at the beginning of the film involving Corporal Hector Negron (Laz Alonso), and this plus the initial fighting in the film gets you right into the flow of the story...and then, the film just dies.  Meg and I took in an afternoon matinee yesterday; we both thought the problems were numerous.  I was really tired of the over-the-top dialogue throughout the film, be it a conversation between a cop and a rookie reporter at a crime scene that was filled with more cop clichés than you can shake a stick at; Meg highlighted conversations that soldiers had with each other that strangely never developed the characters in this film despite the fact that everyone hates Whitey.  One of the film's best moments--when the foursome's leader, Staff Sergeant Stamps (Derek Luke), talks about how free he feels as a black man in Italy but exactly the opposite back in the U.S.--is sandwiched between bad sequences featuring an Italian woman (Valentina Cervi) and another Buffalo Soldier (this one played by Michael Ealy from the "Barbershop" movies), scenes so bad they are nearly unwatchable thanks to a complete lack of sense behind why the Italian woman even likes this particular soldier.

That continues throughout the movie.  Meg made the good call about the music of "Miracle at St. Anna"; this soundtrack is easily as bad as the soundtrack for "Inside Man" (an otherwise great film), and it almost makes me think that Lee is not involved in the scoring of his movies any more, which is really weird.  There are any number of throwaway scenes here, none more so than a cameo by John Leguizamo early in this film, or a five-minute sequence highlighting Racist White People in a flashback featuring the soldiers attempts to get ice cream at a racist diner back in the States.  I'm sure one of Lee's great points in his film is that the Nazis seem to have more sympathy for the Negro soldier than the U.S. white command does, but the one that is conveyed here didn't really work for me.

And, on and on.  There are maybe half a dozen great moments here, but over the course of a film this long, they get lost in the shuffle.  And, given how little the film made this weekend (less than four million in its opening weekend...yikes!), this might be out on DVD by the end of the year.

Rating:  Rental


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09