Head in the Clouds

(2004) ** R
120 min. Sony Pictures Classics. Director: John Duigan. Cast: Penelope Cruz, Thomas Kretschmann, Charlize Theron, Stuart Townsend, Daniel Gillies.

Head in the Clouds examines the question of predestination versus free will. But that's not very sexy, so writer-director John Duigan (Sirens) throws in a threesome between stars Penélope Cruz, Stuart Townsend, and Townsend's real-life girlfriend Charlize Theron (in her first post-Oscar appearance). Set against the backdrop of Europe in the '30s and '40s, Duigan's film puts stock characters in familiar situations; despite flashes of wit which sustain a moderate interest, Head in the Clouds amounts to a dully predictable melodrama in dire need of star power.

Theron gives it the old college try as Gilda, a libertine who sparks to Townsend's honorable Cambridge student Guy when the rain drives her into his dorm room. Quickly, Duigan establishes their characters, which never deepen much. Stolid Guy: "I'm British, but I don't believe in countries much." Coy Gilda: "Beauty, bravery, and brains. What a catch." Gilda can't be tied down, much as Guy would like to do so; even when she finally relents, Gilda wastes little time in spicing things up with her Bohemian Spanish refugee roommate Mia (Cruz). Guy remarks to Gilda, "You're very modern, aren't you?", which, of course, is code for "Damn, this is hot."

Alas, nothing (and certainly not hot la vie Boheme threesomes) is forever. Guy and Mia follow their mutual consciences into the Spanish Civil War (he as a soldier and she as a nurse), despite Gilda's protestations that life is too short not to enjoy every minute. Tragedy ensues, Nazis enter stage right to further complicate matters, and plausibility generally takes a nose dive as the characters experience their respective traumatic life changes by enacting "surprising" reversals. Flimsy narration and flaccid acting (particularly from Townsend in a central role) do nothing to bolster this well-intentioned but forgettable film.

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