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Long arm of Law is overextended

This is the time of year when the various movie constituencies start bopping off in wildly different directions. The film critics’ circles trumpet their favorites as though eager to remind us of their elitist tastes. Is “Sideways” really the best movie of its generation, or merely the best movie about wine tasting? Overseas audiences are busily casting their votes: Will they really rally to the dreadful “Alexander” just as they saved “King Arthur” and “Troy?” And, filmgoers in this country, both in red and blue states, are streaming to “National Treasure,” totally ignoring the almost universal pans emanating from the film critics.

All of which underscores yet again the increasingly schizoid nature of the global film business. The movies that the critics’ circles covet by and large are not showing breakout potential to audiences outside the metropolitan centers. With the occasional exception of a movie like “The Incredibles” — which crix admired as much as the great unwashed — the hicks in the sticks are creating their own hits.

And finally there is the enigma of that burgeoning international appetite for Hollywood product. There have been hopeful signs lately that tastes are becoming more eclectic. Oddball comedies like “Mean Girls” have found wide acceptance abroad. But then there is this insatiable hunger for spectacle — even bogus spectacle. By providing an underpinning for appalling popcorn period epics, overseas audiences inevitably will tilt the production agendas of the major studios.

Could there even be an “Alexander II?”

* * *

So how did the Jude Law experiment work out?

Without doubt, he showed guts (or hubris) to appear in six movies that have been released in the past two months. Not to mention posing for countless magazine covers. GQ’s profile waxed ecstatic over his “stunning symmetry and flawless bone structure,” claiming he’d been “rendered into 150 pounds of chewed Bubblicious in Gap wear,” whatever that means. According to GQ, his films managed to “redefine the fantasy-action film and expose the sexual psyche of the contemporary male.”

Well, not really. “Sky Captain” didn’t redefine much of anything; it’s struggling to get to $40 million domestic. If “Alfie” exposed anything, it’s that its take on the “sexual psyche” is anachronistic. It seems stalled under $15 million. Jude’s brief turn as Errol Flynn in “The Aviator” is flashy but microscopic — the movie belongs to Leonardo. Narrating “Lemony Snicket” must have been fun, but it’s hardly a career step. As for “Closer,” Clive Owen steals the show.

The lesson? There’s such a thing as overexposure, Jude, even for those elite few who are “chewed Bubblicious.”

* * *

This is awkward for a newspaper to admit, but, yes, there is such a thing as too much information. Two new films provide vivid reminders. Oliver Stone is so eager to pack incident into “Alexander” that his movie becomes an exercise in pedantry. His protagonist had a brief life; Stone makes it seem interminable.

Similarly, “The Aviator” is all but overwhelmed with biographical detail about Howard Hughes. Martin Scorsese provides us with a remarkable movie-within-a-movie about the Hughes-Katharine Hepburn affair but, worried that he is short-changing us, ends the biopic with a fact-packed Senate hearing. Yet the three-hour film is sustained by Scorsese’s extravagant theatricality, not to mention a knockout performance by Leonardo DiCaprio, all of which makes “The Aviator” as memorable as “Alexander” is forgettable. Both cry out for that long forgotten skill — editing.

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