The latest and most lamentable addition to the growing subgenre of fatalistic romances that span centuries, The Lovers is woefully lacking in the deranged ambition and visual splendor that made predecessors like Cloud Atlas and The Fountain such grand follies. The film begins with a tossed-off framing device in which an Indian woman asks her guru to make sense of her recent visions. (It’s unclear when this story is set, but the generic exoticism is all that matters.) The guru promptly starts regaling us with a story about two old rings forged of eternal love that would only fit together “if both halves were pure, like the first moment of love.” Okay.
The words aren’t fully out of his mouth when we’re teleported to the year 2020, when a married duo of deep-sea divers (Josh Hartnett and Tamsin Egerton) discovers a ring buried under some underwater rubble. She gets stuck, and he falls into a coma while trying to save her. Suddenly, we’re whisked to India circa 1778, where a Scottish soldier (Hartnett again) is about to get swept up in an adventure that finds him taking the queen hostage and falling in love with her guard, Tulaja (Bollywood star Bipasha Basu). This is where The Lovers decides to drop its anchor, abandoning the temporal hijinks of the first 15 minutes and settling into an agonizingly underwritten period romance that percolates with the latent threat of a New Age deus ex machina.
Directed by veteran British filmmaker Roland Joffé (The Killing Fields), The Lovers is flat and disjointed in a way unique to movies that have suffered from production troubles. Though shot with a rare widescreen splendor (which might explain the reported financial woes), the central romance between star-crossed warriors is as unintelligible as the political intrigue that surrounds it. Most unfortunately, Joffé can’t bring himself to embrace the film’s evident potential as an overdressed camp classic. At times, like the part in which Tulaja tells Hartnett’s soldier that he has “deeply touched me with your person,” it’s not even the worst thing in the scene.
Forget that The Lovers doesn’t have the courtesy to be fun; no cosmic romance should be so deeply afraid to shoot for the stars. As one of the film’s many forgettable characters so eloquently puts it, “This stinks worse than an oyster’s fart.”
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