Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

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.

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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.

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 Echevarría) and thousands of well-trained Mexican troops.

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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.

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