Known throughout Venice for his legendary lovemaking skills, Casanova (Heath Ledger) has become the most desired man by women, and a nuisance for the men who love them. Narrowly escaping big trouble, Casanova promises to marry and settle down, but a young, fiercely independent woman (Sienna Miller, “Layer Cake”) captures his attention soon after he picks a bride. With the Catholic Church (Jeremy Irons) rolling into town to squash free-roaming libidos, Casanova finds himself in a fight for the woman he truly loves, and avoiding the gallows, when his crimes comes back to haunt him.
The legendary lover of women comes back to the big screen in yet another incarnation, but this one is oddly toothless. Director Lasse Hallstrom looks to tickle with this broad epic of love and lust, and while it works overtime to please, there’s a distinct lack of fun to be had, no matter how much the film is promising it.
Despite being R-rated, this “Casanova” has got to be the most unsexy film of the year, unable to hit the softball pitch of sensuality that one would assume is hardwired into the material. Hallstrom teases in the opening showing brief glimpses of Casanova’s conquests and sway over the ladies, but that’s pretty much the end of the seduction. Instead of a nonstop parade of flesh and debauchery, “Casanova” has all the sexual heat of an “According to Jim” episode. It’s clear from the opening credits that critical elements of sensuality are missing, which is like taking the wheels off a racecar. So, if sex isn’t on the menu, what is Hallstrom afterr Laughs.
“Casanova” is a comedy, and not a subtle one at that. Hallstrom pitches the film very broadly, encouraging his actors to pratfall and mug as if they’re in a Looney Tunes short. Consistently, the jokes fall short, and at times, are downright too grotesque (Oliver Platt in a nude fat suit, covered in lard) to be anything else but a disturbing window into Hallstrom’s comedic mind. Eventually, “Casanova” swerves into tedium when it sinks in that Hallstrom isn’t interested in the inner-workings of the title character’s loins, but how many times he can make Jeremy Irons (who used to have standards) fall down and go boom. The director seems to have something Pythonesque in mind with “Casanova,” without the abilities to realize it correctly.
After his barnstorming, bravura performance in “Brokeback Mountain,” it’s more than a little disturbing to see Heath Ledger back in a simplistic role that he typically whines about in magazine interviews. Ledger looks bored out of his skull in the film, dutifully running through the motions, but his heart noticeably lies elsewhere. Casanova is a role that should be performed with fire and charm (Johnny Depp would be a bowl of candy here). All Ledger can muster is a slight wink and a grimace. Sienna Miller does a much better job conveying inner turmoil, and consistently blows her co-star off the screen if only because she’s actually putting in some effort.
Where Hallstrom cannot be faulted is in the production design, which drinks in the opulence of period Venice down to the last details. “Casanova” is often a gorgeous film, making me angry that the script didn’t receive such lavish effort. The plot soon makes Casanova into a man fighting for love, yet without the necessary foundation to establish his sacrifice, the arc has no meaning, and leaves the film a thudding, miscalculated bore.Rating: D+