Captain Corelli's Mandolin
dir. John Madden
Opens Fri Aug 17 at various theaters.

From its winding, ancient cobblestone streets to its gorgeous Adriatic vistas, the Greek island of Cephallonia is disarmingly beautiful. This beauty lords over Captain Corelli's Mandolin, an adaptation of the Marquez-ian (if I may) novel by Louis de Bernières, to the point that there's little room left in the camera eye for matters of story or character. Which is fine, because in those areas, not much is going on.

It's sad to watch Nicolas Cage, who, after a brief respite of quality in The Family Man, uses Corelli to continue his brutal downward slide as an actor. Playing the movie's namesake, he leads an Italian army regiment that has no interest in the fight for fascism in WWII. Once they put Cephallonia under house arrest, the Italians do nothing but sing, screw, and shave all day, while occasionally stopping to apply polish to the tips of their mustaches. They're like a bunch of conscripted waiters, and as head waiter, Cage states everything like it's the special of the day. When he professes his love to Pelagia, played by the competent Penélope Cruz, he might as well be extolling the virtues of the Linguini con Vongole or the awfully great Tartuffe. And every time he plays that prop of a mandolin, his face goes into a silly, I Remember Mama-esque parody of Italian fealty.

Cage's performance is especially hackneyed in comparison with Christian Bale. Playing Mandras, the spurned fisherman boyfriend of Pelagia, he brings honor to a simple boy-man lost in his patriotism, and you can smell his musk, a peasant's brine that never washes off. Bale's Mandras may be a dumbass, but he has twice the depth and integrity of Cage's sing-song, buddy-buddy Corelli.

All that said, Corelli is not without its uses. Because of its amazing scenery, it makes for a very good date movie. The two of you can mock the clumsy pretensions to timeless love and loyalty to God, agree that Penélope Cruz is a four-alarm fire who does not look the least bit Greek, and then go plan your next vacation.