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Movie review: 'Water for Elephants,' 2.5 stars

Water for Elephants

Water for Elephants

Water for Elephants
2.5 stars
Directed by Francis Lawrence
Starring Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon, Christoph Waltz

Between Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon, “Water for Elephants” certainly played it safe as far as box office appeal is concerned. Throw in Christoph Waltz as a villain and you’ve got your dash of inspired casting. A shiny cast is not enough, though, for this arrhythmic Depression-era romance.

Based on the best-selling novel of the same name, “Water for Elephants” casts Pattinson as a vet school student, Jacob, who falls in with a traveling circus run by a despotic ringmaster, August (Waltz). August beats his animals bloody and tosses surplus employees off his moving train. He also has an ugly tendency to rough up his wife, Marlena (Witherspoon), who is the star of the show.

The more time Jacob spends with his violent boss, the more protective he becomes of August’s victims — most of all, Marlena, who returns his feelings with stolen glances and hot and heavy conversation about their mutual love for animals. (Speaking of which, the animals in this film are adorable — whoever cast the elephant deserves an award.)

“Water for Elephants” is sufficiently engrossing, to the point where you’re rooting for the lovebirds, and production designer Jack Fisk conjures up some lovely imagery. Still, the film never hits a comfortable stride and the actors rarely seem at ease in their roles.

Witherspoon is too Type A to play the glittering centerpiece of such an unrepressed Big Top world; Pattinson can’t quite shake that forlorn thousand-yard stare; and Waltz, who played such an exquisite villain in “Inglourious Basterds,” shines in August’s violent scenes but falters in his vulnerable moments.

None of this will matter to adoring "Twilight" fans, but non-fans are more apt to find satisfaction if they walk in with lowered expectations.

 

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