Movie Review: Across the Universe

across_the-universeRevolution is arguably the worst movie studio in history. Their catalog stuffed to the gills with movies so bad that it would make Ed Wood blush. Two “xXx” movies, “Daddy Day Care,” “White Chicks,” “Little Man,” “Christmas with the Kranks,” “America’s Sweethearts” (the last two were actually directed by Roth), “Zoom,” “The Master of Disguise,” “Next” and “The Animal” are but a handful of the movies they’ve inflicted on an undeserving public. They’re also responsible for three of this year’s worst movies: “Daddy Day Camp,” “The Brothers Solomon” and “Perfect Stranger,” the last of which has the most preposterous ending you will see in a movie from this or any other year. Revolution, by and large, specializes in dumb. C-A-T dumb, as my friend Mark would say.

So how on earth were they the studio that wound up making “Across the Universe”? Julie Taymor’s wildly ambitious reinterpretation of the Beatles songbook is the absolute last thing you’d expect a studio like Revolution to be interested in, yet “Across the Universe” has more guts than the rest of Revolution’s catalog combined. Pity, then, that it runs aground in the third act, because up until that point, Taymor’s weirdo blend of “Moulin Rouge” and “Hair” is just the right mix of whimsical and crazy.

The movie begins in the early ‘60s, and follows the lives of several people in various parts of the world. Jude (Jim Sturgess) is a dockworker from Liverpool who leaves for the U.S. to track down his father, whom he thinks is a professor at Princeton. Once he arrives he befriends a rich slacker student named Max (Joe Armstrong), and ultimately becomes smitten with Max’s little sister, Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood). Max and Jude move to New York and wind up sharing a flat with soul singer named Sadie (Dana Fuchs). Lucy visits them after graduating high school, and falls in love with Jude. Max is soon drafted by the Army to serve in Vietnam, which causes Lucy to become an anti-war activist, much to Jude’s chagrin. Rounding out the story is a former cheerleader named Prudence, a Hendrix-ish guitarist named Jojo, a psychedelics expert fittingly named Dr. Robert, and, of course, Mr. Kite.

I must give props to soundtrack producer T. Bone Burnett for knowing when to keep it simple and knowing when to have some fun, not to mention acknowledging some of the better Beatles cover versions along the way. “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” here, is an aching acoustic ballad, “With a Little Help from My Friends” is half-Beatles, half-Joe Cocker, and “A Day in the Life” owes more to Jeff Beck’s version than the sprawling Beatles opus. Additionally, it appears that they went out of their way to use as few songs from the Bee Gees’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” soundtrack as they could. Very smart. S-M-R-T, as noted scholar Homer Simpson would say.

What is not so smart, however, is the heavy-handedness of the war subplot. Uncle Sam reaching out of the poster on the wall and telling Max, “I want you”? Clever. Max and a group of soldiers carrying the Statue of Liberty on their backs through the Vietnam jungles, singing “She’s so heavy”? Painful. Ironically, this subtle-as-a-sledgehammer moment is as anti-establishment as the movie gets; the predominant message throughout the movie seems to be ‘The Man always wins,’ which cannot possibly be what Taymor intended. I also found it strangely easy to stop caring when things between Jude and Lucy went sour. In fact, I can’t say that any of the characters made much of an impact, to be honest. The music, in the end, is the star.

We can only hope that Revolution doesn’t use the box office numbers for “Across the Universe” – which, let’s be frank, is not going to make any money – to determine the movie’s true worth. The movie is ultimately pretty good, but damned if they didn’t aspire for something far greater, which is more than 90% of the movies in their catalog can legitimately claim. The Christmas bonuses at Revolution may be smaller this year, but the employees can take comfort in the fact that they’ve laid the groundwork for saving the souls they sold when they released “The New Guy.”

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

This originally ran October 11, 2007 on

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