Paramount's July '05 Releases
Elephant Walk (July 31/05)
Elephant Walk is an astonishingly bad, thoroughly dull melodrama that culminates with an absurd sequence featuring a stampeding herd of angry elephants. Elizabeth Taylor stars as Ruth Wiley, a young woman who agrees to marry a wealthy plantation owner named John Wiley (Peter Finch). Upon arriving at John's enormous palatial estate, Ruth discovers that she's the only white woman in the vicinity. And it's not long before Ruth realizes that John isn't quite the easy-going, charming man she though he was; a ruthless taskmaster, John is consistently trying to live up to the overbearing reputation of his late father. Out of desperation, Ruth considers having an affair with John's right-hand man - but just as the two are preparing to leave town, their small community is hit with a deadly outbreak of cholera (which is followed by the aforementioned elephant stampede). Elephant Walk moves at a glacial pace, emphasizing Ruth's difficulty in embracing her new lifestyle over all else - though the viewer is never given a single reason to care about her plight (that Taylor plays the character as a clueless, hopelessly spoiled figure certainly doesn't help). Dana Andrews' supporting performance as Ruth's would-be suitor is about the only positive aspect of Elephant Walk, with everything else (including the lackluster pachyderm invasion that closes the film) a complete wash.
It Started in Naples (July 31/05)
Though it features a typically charming performance from Clark Gable, It Started in Naples is nevertheless an aimless, thoroughly predictable waste of time masquerading as a romantic comedy. Gable stars as Michael Hamilton, an American lawyer who comes to Italy intending to settle his late brother's estate. Almost immediately upon arriving, Michael discovers that his brother's 10-year-old illegitimate son has been living with a sultry lounge singer named Lucia Curcio (Sophia Loren). Michael soon comes to the decision that the boy should live with him in America, and decides to fight Lucia for custody - going so far as to hire an Italian lawyer (played by Vittorio De Sica). Of course, it's not long before Michael and Lucia begin to take a romantic interest in one another. Not surprisingly, complications ensue - preventing the two from pairing up until the film's conclusion. It Started in Naples doesn't really work as either a romance or a comedy - although Gable does manage to get off a few humorous bon mots (the actor is essentially just playing a riff on his previously-established persona). And while the scenery is quite nice, there's absolutely nothing here to hold the viewer's interest for more than a few minutes at a time. The chemistry between Gable and Loren is non-existent, something that's exacerbated by the film's complete lack of a storyline. Unless you're a Gable completist (It Started in Naples was his penultimate film appearance), this is certainly worth skipping.
Wilder Days (August 2/05)
Though it actually premiered on television a few months before Big Fish hit theaters, Wilder Days' numerous similarities to that Tim Burton flick are impossible to overlook (that Big Fish is a much, much better film certainly doesn't help). Peter Falk stars as James Morse, an inventive storyteller whose adult son, John (Tim Daly), has grown tired of his seemingly fabricated tales. John's own son, Chris (Josh Hutcherson), is convinced that everything his pop-up says is the truth, and it's clear that John and Chris are having the same sort of problems in their relationship that John has with his father. But when James kidnaps Chris and takes him on a road trip, John must put aside his feelings and use his knowledge of the old stories to track the two down. Wilder Days is generally pleasant and innocuous, but ultimately, the off-kilter tone prevents the viewer from really connecting with these characters. There are some surprisingly dramatic moments midway through that are certainly welcome, but the bottom line is that the film never quite takes off - though there's no denying that both Falk and Daly are very effective.