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'Mandolin' hits all the wrong notes

"Captain Corelli's Mandolin," the latest directorial effort from John Madden ("Shakespeare in Love" ), bursts with potential, teases audiences with a breathtaking setting and lures unsuspecting moviegoers with big names and a historic, true-to-life story. Unfortunately for viewers, the film disappoints with a vacant and unimaginative script even Nicolas Cage's star power and Penelope Cruz's big brown eyes can't save from failure.

"Mandolin" takes place on Cephallonia, a small Greek island, just as Greece is beginning to feel the impact of World War II. The island is a picture of serenity and tradition until Italian soldiers take control of the area and, in the blink of an eye, transform the home of a doctor and his daughter into a temporary station for the mandolin-playing Captain Antonio Corelli (Cage).

In the meantime, Pelagia, played by Cruz, laments the absence of her fiance, Mandras (Christian Bale), who, for all she knows, has been killed in battle defending his country.

From the moment the happy-go-lucky Corelli sees Pelagia, he is love struck. The only problem with the captain's instant ardor, however, is that he has virtually no contact, not to mention conversation, with his object of affection. Cage's flirtatious exclamations ("bella bambina!"), mandolin strumming and amorous glances in the girl's direction give audiences a taste of the inevitable, leaving no room for the believable development of the unlikely couple's romance.

What the film lacks in original writing, it attempts to make up for in drawn-out scenes-including one in which Pelagia dances her heart out, showing off for the captain she so vehemently hated only a few minutes earlier.

The actors' accents don't exactly help the situation either.

Try as he might, Cage fails to deliver a convincing Italian accent and looks pretty silly in his attempts. Cruz, on the other hand, doesn't have to try very hard to speak with an accent, but leaves viewers to wonder, "Isn't that accent Spanish?"

As trite as it may seem, the story of forbidden love and the breaking of cultural boundaries could have supplied writers with plenty of material. The themes the film explores are timeless and with a more creative twist could have made for an interesting love story. "Mandolin," however, serves up a generous portion of cheese, with no meat on which to put it.

Not only does the script string together hackneyed one-liners, it gives Cruz nothing to work with other than a chance to constantly pout and stare sorrowfully into the camera. This is regrettable considering Cruz may have added some flavor to the film had she been given the chance.

John Hurt does a decent job in the role of Pelagia's father, Dr. Iannis. But, like other actors and characters in the film, Hurt too falls victim to the script's stale dialogue. The character does offer some gems of advice concerning the true meaning of love, but his constant father-to-daughter wisdom gets a little tiresome at times.

"Mandolin's" main problem is that it tries to tackle too many big issues at one time and ultimately comes across as disjointed and superficial. The film explores love, loss, prejudices and war, but skims over each theme, leaving nothing but bloody fight scenes, an obligatory love scene and several stock characters.

"Mandolin" makes an effort to illustrate the devastation that comes with war. But with its miscast stars and weak script, "Mandolin" might make you want to travel to the beat of a different tune.