Destined for the gift shop at the end of the tour, the Disneyfied opus The Alamo seems like it was adapted from a chapter in a middle-school history textbook—it's written in a large, easy-to-read typeface and abridged so ruthlessly that the past never comes to life. Without desks to nap on, untold thousands will get neck strain from John Lee Hancock's turgid re-creation, as they grapple for some galvanizing character or moment to keep them from nodding off. The Alamo doesn't even have the guts to be actively risible, because Hancock and his studio-imposed PG-13 rating always steer toward the middle of the road, appealing to all and likely resonating with none.

Taking the miniseries route at a clipped length, The Alamo tries for a comprehensive account of the major figures and incidents, but it doesn't have time to cover such a mammoth event from every angle, at least not without losing something in the process. Had Hancock and his screenwriters stuck with a single perspective or reduced the canvas to a more manageable size, they might have had some justification for bringing this story to the screen, other than rousing the inner patriot. An army without a general, the film follows several supporting players and forgets the leading man, so some characters flounder in the backdrop, while others drop out of sight for reels at a time.

Advertisement

Had Hancock tethered his fortunes to Billy Bob Thornton's witty and soulful Davy Crockett, for one, he would have made a much better movie. Instead, Thornton yields the floor to a bland cast of characters: General Sam Houston (Dennis Quaid), who mainly serves as a framing device; James Bowie (Jason Patric), who wallows in a consumptive illness; and Lt. Col. William Travis (Patrick Wilson), a painfully earnest greenhorn who wins over the divided troops. Over 13 days in the spring of 1836, they and fewer than 200 ragtag militiamen hold a fort against General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna (Emilio EchevarrĂ­a) and thousands of well-trained Mexican troops.

The Alamo has already been delayed for several months for retooling (read: gutting), and the timing of its release should win over Iraqi insurgents, who might find inspiration in the story of ill-equipped rebels staving off the advances of an overwhelming colonial force. Everyone else will have to suffer dull stretches with Patric's navel-gazing Bowie or the laughably effete Santa Anna, who wears more gold than Mr. T and threatens troops for mishandling his fine crystal. Once Hancock gets to the battle itself, The Alamo turns into an edited-for-TV version of Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch—flat, bloodless, and utterly bereft of period grit.