This big budget BIRTH OF AN (unnamed) ARAB NATION story raised about €40 mill to hire some major international talents, but it still feels like a vanity project. (Did it even get a Stateside theatrical release?) With a paint-by-the-numbers plot to match its literal paint-by-the-numbers CGI effects, it’s a slick, barely felt, techno-update of old Hollywood epic tropes. The sort of thing Darryl F. Zanuck would ‘personally produce’ in his Fox heyday. As we open, two Arab Princes take opposite sides on the idea of Western investment & oil production: stick with a closed society and traditional religious values or leap into the modern world of Global Commerce and all the goodies money can buy? Zanuck would have put Tyrone Power in as the princely son (by blood and by adoption) of the two old leaders, the young man destined to unite Old & New! Don Ameche gets stuck playing martyr as the comically frustrated half-brother. Loretta Young’s the good girl Ty can only dream about while Annabella’s the tomboy who really deserves him. Wait, that’s SUEZ/’38, but with Joseph Schildkraut in the usual Ameche spot. Oh well, once we get to the desert battles, helmer Jean-Jacques Annaud gets to play war with camels, horses, single-prop planes and all those acres of CGI-friendly, obstacle-free desert. At least, Antonio Banderas gets off a great line when he discovers that the newly acclaimed ‘Mahdi’ is his bespectacled adopted son. Too bad Tahar Rahim who plays the part, so fascinating & unreadable as the mobster-in-training in A PROPHET/’09, can’t get worked up to do anything but pout ten different ways all thru the pic.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Once he announces a prince’s death midway thru the pic, our eponymous bird is seen no more. How’d he keep top billing? (See alternate title on our poster.)
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: What an odd career Annaud has had. Major technical chops, yet barely a dozen pics over four decades. Try his intense Siege-of-Stalingrad epic, ENEMY AT THE GATES/’01 which seemed to have slipped past most viewers.