If your girlfriend, boyfriend or spouse asks you to take them to Winter's Tale for Valentine's Day, my relationship advice is to immediately say yes. But leave a copy of this review lying around, and you may get a chance at making better plans.
Winter's Tale seems to have a target audience of those who collect cherub posters, God bless 'em. As adapted by Oscar-winning screenwriter Akiva Goldsman from Mark Helprin's novel, Winter's Tale is a spiritual film that runs on Judeo-Christian good-versus-evil mythology and the firm belief that love conquers all, especially if you have a magic flying horse. I know that sounds pretty awesome, but with mythology like this, the details matter, and the details here are silly, dishwater dull or, more commonly, both, which might explain the uncommon number of walk-outs at the free word-of-mouth screening (despite the free chocolates handed out at the door).
Colin Farrell plays Peter Lake, an orphan thief who, in 1916 New York, burgles an Upper West Side manse only to find Pre-Raphaelite-esque heiress Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay) playing Brahms on the piano. The meet-scary gets weirder when Lake asks, "What's wrong with you?" and Penn replies, "Consumption. I'm twenty-one, and I've never been kissed on the mouth." Before you laugh, remember, this is an Oscar-winning screenwriter. Anyway, out of presumable chivalry, Lake doesn't immediately oblige Penn's come-hither-no-seriously-come-hither advances, waiting until he can be sized up skeptically by her dad (William Hurt).
Eventually, there is a love scene, with an unintentionally funny finish, but not before nutty Irish gangster and agent-of-Lucifer Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe) glowers a whole lot while tracking Lake. Crowe's side of the film plays like some kind of "Bored-walk Empire," where men in early-twentieth century suits and hats fret and impotently throw their weight around, but at least Crowe gets to hang out with a movie star who puts in a unbilled (and uninspired) two-scene turn as Lucifer. And then there's the bit in which Soames claws a man's scalp, which obligingly spurts out a puddle's worth of blood. Happy Valentine's Day.
Did I mention the part where an ageless Lake continues his story into 2014 New York, meets Jennifer Connelly's food journalist and her cancer-ridden kid, and fulfills his destiny, miracle, we're all starlight, zzzzzzzz. Wha—? Sorry, dozed off there. But seriously, I give Goldman, in his inauspicious feature-directing debut, at least a few points for the lunacy of this romance, which has the advantage of not being written by Nicholas Sparks.
Spiritual cinema needn't be stupid and dull, but when such movies aim for the multiplex, they almost always are (a notable exception: screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin's 1990s run of Ghost, Jacob's Ladder, and My Life). Winter's Tale doesn't even do the courtesy of being floridly, entertainingly bad rather than merely a snooze. Then again, there's plenty of inducement to make out in the dark rather than pay attention to the screen. So maybe it's a great Valentine's Day movie after all.