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FILM REVIEW **1/2

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones

Clones But No Cigar

By Vladimir Zelevinsky

STAFF WRITER

Directed by George Lucas

Written by George Lucas and Jonathan Hale

Starring Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Christopher Lee, Frank Oz, Samuel L. Jackson

Rated PG

Killer Klones from Outer Space is very much like Lucas’ previous golden calf -- amazingly rendered worlds, ferociously exciting action (and the Insane Clone Posse has the best lightsaber duel in the entire series, bar none) -- but there are also some things in this one which really can’t be forgiven.

I have two words for you: fireplace scene. This is when -- on the opening night! in an audience full of diehard fans! -- people stopped merely snickering at the dialogue (calling it atrocious would be too kind; one line of it would kill a Wookiee at fifty feet), and started laughing out loud. This was happening at the point that was clearly supposed to be the emotional fulcrum of Eau de Clone. I don’t think anybody threw anything at the screen, but I might have simply missed it, because I was moaning in abject anguish throughout the entire scene.

Poor, poor Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman. Here, the talent (of which Portman has a good deal and Christensen has absolutely zero) does not matter. Try however you might, delivering lines like “I am forever haunted by the kiss you should have never given me” or “You are in my soul, tormenting me from inside” would make anyone look like an idiot -- and it does, making The Clone of the Cave Bear a romance between two idiots, which is not the most convincing genre.

The only major character who escapes this predicament is Ewan McGregor. The screenplay gives him neither decent lines nor a character to play -- but he still makes an impression, by making a simple and brilliant decision to play not Obi-wan Kenobi but Alec Guinness. The bad guys in Send in the Clones come off better, if only because the only lines they have to deliver are classic bad guy material, such as “You’ve interfered with our plans for the last time! [maniacal cackle].”

These minutiae of the screenplay are too bad, because the overall story of Only the Clonely -- the Laurence of Arabia-like surrender to the temptation of power (Christian symbolism is thankfully much more restrained this time around) -- is solid, and Anakin Skywalker is given a touching and convincing character arc. The only thing Christensen can do acting-wise is whine, so none of this arc is visible in his performance, but the suggestion is discernible.

The situation with directing is quite the opposite. Here, the details are magnificent: the imagery is gorgeous, design (both visual and sound) is aces, and the overall level of inventiveness is off the charts; my favorites are the rain-swept planet of the cloners, the execution that does not go as planned, and the impressionistic editing of the light-saber fight. On the other hand, on the grand level, direction is an abject failure, intercutting completely unrelated events in two-shot snippets, losing any kind of narrative moment. Your faithful servant would feel his eyes glazing any time someone would use words like “republic” and “federation” in the same sentence -- or startle, realizing he was actually supposed to care about all those people moving around the universe in perfectly random fashion. Also, if you steal an entire sequence from Chicken Run, you’d better make it at least half as good as the original. And no, quoting The Sound of Music hilltop scene was not a good idea.

What remains is the special effects -- which actually comprise roughly 99 44/100 percent of Rolling Clones. They’re from Industrial Light and Magic -- the best money can buy -- and they are perfectly seamless (for only two or three moments did I remember that I was not watching real objects but digital creations), and they can do whatever they want with them, and they try to impress us by using many thousands of them in each shot, and they are impressive indeed. The novelty is wearing off, but hasn’t completely yet. The fact that Clone Ranger was filmed on digital video -- and, as I saw it, projected digitally as well -- is almost unnoticeable, and this is the way it should be, and this is clearly some sort of a landmark, and I’ll try to be excited about this when my schedule allows it, maybe next Tuesday.

Enough harping. Lucas’ evocation of cheesy B-grade sci-fi movies is uncanny, and Portman is cute and gets to show off her midriff, and the fact that the story details don’t make any sense actually make the whole thing pleasantly unpredictable. So, overall, I had a good time watching Clone Alone 2. Just let’s not make this into an event movie.