'Alamo' puts up a fight but is licked by boredom. This story of long odds falls short when it comes to putting a human face on a host of legendary figures.
MOVIE REVIEW: * * (2 stars out of 5)
By Roger Moore
Sentinel Movie Critic
The sets are spectacular, the attention to detail laudable, and the history defensible, if not quite literal.
Too bad the latest screen version of the oft-told legend of The Alamo is such a bore.
Disney's The Alamo, pulled from release at Christmas and chopped from its original three hours to two hours and fifteen minutes, hits the highlights of the legend and corrects much of the overblown myth perpetrated by John Wayne in his 1960 film.
But it's been rendered into a story whose only driving force is the historic timeline. Few of the characters are compelling, and not one is given enough screen time to make us focus on the human side of the legend.
You don't have to have followed the film's tortured path to the screen -- Ron Howard was going to make it a bloody, more expensive and expansive R-rated epic starring Russell Crowe -- to develop a sense of The Alamo that might have been. What's left is a strong outline of a story, a few corny-mythic moments, and a whiff of the cast, director and movie that might have come from them.
Sam Houston (Dennis Quaid) is a drunken political has-been and slave-holder who won't be goaded into staging an undermanned attempt to lift the siege at the embattled mission-fort.
The "siege" is shown not as the desperate series of resisted onslaughts the movies traditionally spin, but as an encirclement, with a besieging general delaying over-running the place to see if he could lure Houston into attempting a rescue.
Political correctness gives native-born Mexicans, including revolutionary leader Juan Seguin, their due. However, most Mexican defenders are also shown fleeing the Alamo trap when General Santa Anna offers to let them go, which is just as correct.
Santa Anna is (Emilio Echevarría)is shown to be a leering, preening, murderous tyrant with a Napoleon complex. Historically fair, though co-writer-director John Lee Hancock (The Rookie) handles the character and his excesses with an utter lack of subtlety.
Jim Bowie (Jason Patric) is also a drunk, a consumptive one with an adolescent temper and a knife.
But Billy Bob Thornton -- as the folk hero, "injun fighter" and bear wrestling ex-congressman from Tennessee, David "Davey" Crockett -- takes the news that there's to be a battle at his new home of San Antonio, Texas, with a mixture of surprise and barely concealed fear.
"I understood the fightin' was over. . . ain't it?"
It's a touching scene that resonates in the film. Even heroes have their unheroic moments. And as Crockett -- "Lion of the West," he was called in his day, "King of the Wild Frontier" in ours -- Thornton deftly plays a self-conscious self-promoter who is ennobled by having to live up to his legend.
Crockett was a fiddling blowhard who spun tall tales about himself, maybe the first entertainer ever elected to Congress. But when the Mexicans called his bluff, he didn't run. He must have been scared silly, facing almost certain death. He may have, as recent historical evidence has suggested, survived the massacre at the Alamo. But he was no coward.
Thornton stands out in a cast that generally doesn't. Quaid, solid as always, makes Houston hunch-shouldered and ever-scowling, and renders the famous "Remember the Alamo" speech with a verve that will raise the hairs on the back of your neck. But the ever-introverted Patric, as Bowie, is utterly upstaged by his knife.
And Patrick Wilson may have seemed right as an exaggerated version of the "weak" and "dandy" Col. Travis, all of 26 years old when he died. But Travis was the hothead who said, "God and Texas, Victory or Death!" Wilson isn't up to that part of the role. The players make this feel like a second-string Alamo.
Say this for it, though. Disney's The Alamo pays a lot more attention to history than Disney's Pearl Harbor. America's Thermopylae, a last stand against long odds, is a natural story to film, but not one that can be told, with a fresh eye, on a Disney budget and with a Disney rating.
They may have gotten the history more or less right. But this is an
Alamo that could have used a little more Hollywood.