The story of Giacomo Casanova, the 18th-century Italian adventurer whose romantic exploits made his name synonymous with "lover," can be (and has been) told in many different ways. After all, he made and lost fortunes, mingled with great historical figures like Catherine The Great and Voltaire, and managed a daring escape after being imprisoned for witchcraft by the Inquisition. Apparently one way the story can be told is as a bland, mildly titillating costume piece that recalls Shakespeare In Love or a defanged Dangerous Liaisons. Directed by Lasse Hallström, the middlebrow maestro of Chocolat and The Cider House Rules, Casanova takes the form of a bedroom farce and a suspiciously modern romantic comedy. It's pleasant enough while it lasts, and probably better than any other Casanova movie to date (no great accomplishment there), but a little ambition might have complemented its naughty frivolity.
First seen scurrying half-dressed out of a nunnery, Heath Ledger's wily Casanova faces constant persecution from the Inquisition in 1753 Venice, where his reputation as a womanizer has already become the stuff of legend. Casanova's connections to city leaders spare him the noose, but he's warned that he must settle down with a good wife or else be exiled from Venice forever. Circumstances lead him to his opposite, a feisty women's-rights advocate (Sienna Miller), but she strongly resists his advances, not least because she's arranged to be married to portly lard magnate Oliver Platt. A little tomfoolery proves enough to keep his romantic rival distracted while Casanova courts her in his place, but he's given more of a challenge by chief Inquisitor Jeremy Irons, who comes to Venice determined to put an end to the decadence Casanova personifies.
Over the past decade, there have been countless rom-coms with the same formula: dedicated bachelor and infamous ladies' man meets the one woman he can't charm and falls in love with her; she reciprocates only after taming him first. So long as nothing more is expected of Casanova than a less gimmicky What Women Want, the film functions reasonably well, especially on the fringes, where the ideally cast Platt and Irons are given free rein to ham it up. At best, it's a light, boisterous little confection, but hasn't Hugh Grant already starred in this film a few times?