Writer-producer-director Joss Whedon is a Hollywood guy with a golden touch ("Avengers," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Cabin in the Woods") so the motivations for his doing Shakespeare would seem obvious: In addition to all the money in the world, he also wants respect.
It would look like proof, except for the delightful pudding itself: Whedon's adaptation of "Much Ado About Nothing," brings one of the Bard's most popular comedies into a contempo-casual present day, and finds in Shakespeare what minds the likes of Harold Bloom have always insisted is there, namely, the seeds of the modern world. And modern entertainment: What is "Much Ado" anyway, if not a sitcom?
At a days-long garden party in well-to-do Los Angeles (shot at Whedon's real home), romance develops: Hero and Claudio (Jillian Morgese, Fran Kranz) are to be wed, while erstwhile bedmates (a Whedon innovation) Benedick and Beatrice (Alexis Denisof, Amy Acker) continue to snipe at each other, and the nefarious Don John (Sean Maher), concocts a scheme to make Claudio think Hero is untrue. We don't think of Shakespeare as the father of screwball comedy, but there it is.
Whedon, making fair use of all manner of physical humor and snarky gags, also has a first-rate cast at his disposal, most of whom are veterans of his various projects. Acker is luminous; Denisof is Clooney-esque; newcomer Morgese is radiant. Everyone acquits him or herself charmingly, and with a deep appreciation for why Shakespeare travels well, and in defiance of those who would dismiss him as dusty. The fact is, he's writing about us. It's as simple as that, and Whedon well knows it.
PLOT The bickering Benedick and Beatrice come to love each other, despite vile plots and chicanery.
RATING PG-13 (some sexuality, drug use)
CAST Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Jillian Morgese, Fran Kranz.
BOTTOM LINE Joss Whedon overcomes the usual hiccups attendant to Shakespeare updates with an adorable cast and a near-slapstick approach to Elizabethan comedy.