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Winter's Tale 

This magical, time-spanning romance is more laughable than dreamy

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Akiva Goldsman's directorial debut could be charitably called a "romantic fantasy adventure," but it's also a dreadful, laughably bad mess. Adapted from Mark Helprin's popular novel, it's a time-spanning tale of love, miracles, revenge, big-hearted burglars, financially minded demons, flying horses  and consumptive women in diaphanous gowns. It mostly takes place in old New York under such a vigorous dusting of fake snow that it might as well have been staged in a snowglobe.

In 1916, scrappy Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) breaks into a fancy Central Park house. (For once, Farrell uses his native Irish accent, even though Lake is born of Eastern Europeans and raised in Brooklyn by a Native American.) There he meets the dying Beverly (Jessica Brown Findlay, from Downton Abbey). They fall in love and obsess about starlight. Also, Lake is being pursued by a bad guy (Russell Crowe), who quite astonishingly can disappear people simply by opening up his forehead and sucking them in.

About halfway through, I'd sorted out the "magical" from the maudlin, and could at least discern what the film had hoped to be — a wispy, weepy, sprawling inter-generational love story designed to sweep viewers up in its glittery greeting-card affirmations. Alas, the audience's chief reaction was inappropriate laughter, and I can't blame them.

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