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As he hath ofttimes writ, Cranky doth not compare to source material. Neither doth he know Shakespeare as wouldst a scholar. But Cranky doth know when to scrape the dirt off his shoe.
Cranky doth know that Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet (first staged in 1596) is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, love story tragedies of all time. He also doth know that the maker of Romeo+Juliet hath forgot that Romeo and Juliet is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, love story tragedy of all time.
And this being the 1990s, Romeo (Leonardo DiCaprio) is prettier than Juliet (Claire Danes). Feh.
Romeo+Juliet is an MTV action flick. On that level, it is a sumptuous feast for the eye. But if thou wouldst like to hear the King's English spoken with understanding and comprehension (or indeed wouldst like to see the Play acted finely), thou shouldst look elsewhere. For the dialog is whispered or screamed, or spoken at such a rapid clip that every "thee," "thou," "wouldst," "couldst," and "shouldst" is unintelligible. Helicopter blades shred the skies overhead. Rap music blares out of the low riders of the Montague and Capulet gang cars. Fireworks explode. People fall into pools, many times. Guns fire. Gas stations explode, and statues of Jesus look down blissfully on it all.
Rising high over Verona Beach, like the genitals of frat boys playing "mine is bigger than yours," are the skyscrapers bearing the names Capulet and Montague. They face each other across a crowded boulevard, aptly symbolizing the competition between the two families. In this making, the Capulets are Latino and the Montagues are White. Big subtitles set the scene and identify the players. Brian Dennehy is patriarch of the Montagues; Paul Sorvino (in an atrocious accent) leads the Capulets. Romeo's pal Mercutio is a black drag queen. The Montague boys are punks. The Capulet boys are slick and stereotyped. And everyone remembers to check their guns at the door before they party.
It is the simplest of stories. The Capulets throw a costume party to which the Montagues are not invited. Romeo and friends crash the party and are found out by gang leader Tybalt (John Leguizamo). The Patriarch Montague forbids immediate action, so the wild eyed Tybalt seeks out Romeo the next day. In the meantime, though, Romeo sees Juliet. They are smitten, pledge love, and Romeo goes off to arrange a secret wedding. Knowing that his marriage to Juliet will nullify the feud between families, he refuses to fight Tybalt. But Tybalt won't let him. Blood flows. Murder is made. Messages are not delivered, and you probably know the rest from school.
Romeo+Juliet succeeds only in that it doesn't fall into the "Shakespeare as museum piece" mode, with each word carefully bracketed by way too much silence. It fails for the same reason, for few of the cast seem to know exactly what it is they are saying. With the exception of Dennehy and Pete Postlethwaite's Friar Laurence, who speak their lines as normal conversation, everyone else is far too overwhelmed by the language.
But then, I knew from verse one (which is handily displayed onscreen after the TV reporter, who badly reads it as TelePrompter copy, is finished) that this was not for me. So I just sat back and enjoyed the visuals. Which was fun.
Cranky sat down at the 3 o'clock show with all the schoolkids who rushed over after the final bell. The reactions were almost unanimous. The females: "That sucked." The males (all of whom let out lusty cheers at each killing): "It didn't suck so bad."
And sorry boys, you don't get to see Claire Danes' breasts.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Romeo+Juliet, he would have paid...
For the visuals. It looks great, but that's about it.
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