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‘Christopher Columbus: The Discovery’

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 22, 1992

 


Director:
John Glen
Cast:
Marlon Brando;
Tom Selleck;
George Corraface;
Rachel Ward;
Robert Davi
PG-13
violence and nudity


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When Marlon Brando makes his entrance in the bloated epic "Christopher Columbus: The Discovery," we know how Ahab must have felt when he first laid eyes on Moby Dick. Like the Cap'n said, "Ahoy, he blows." Swathed in clerical robes that wardrobe doubtless made from the mainsail, Brando plays the Spanish Grand Inquisitor Tomas de Torquemada, but he would have been better cast as the Nina. Brando is that wooden, which is nothing unusual when it comes to this creaking old tub of a motion picture.

John Glen, the director of the last five "007" pictures, apparently put in most of his marine miles making "Octopussy." He has managed to bring a dead calm to what is meant to be an old-fashioned swashbuckler, despite a frisky performance by leading man George Corraface. A newcomer who was set to star in the late David Lean's "Nostromo," the dashing Corraface scampers about the Santa Maria as if it were the HMS Pinafore.

He also has a way with women, as Queen Isabella (Rachel Ward) points out, and she is married to Tom Selleck. Uhhh, I think that's supposed to be King Ferdinand. Oh, let's not be picky -- this is, after all, a tale of three ships and a little lady.

Mario Puzo, who collaborated with the producer Ilya Salkind on both "Superman" movies, wrote the screenplay with John Briley of "Gandhi" and Cary Bates of Salkind's TV series "Superboy." No wonder it plays like a cross between a comic book and a costume epic.

This Christopher Columbus is a superman who did what he did for the glory of God. When the sailors aren't sleeping, praying, whining or poking small holes in the ship, they are singing sea chantey versions of "Gloria in excelsis deo." God, bless him, responds by striking the ship with lighting.

Driven by his dream, Columbus just keeps on plowing toward Hispaniola. "The man was born with a compass in his head," observes the Pinta's captain (Robert Davi), who has come to admire the explorer during the eventful, but dull, voyage. Somehow the director has figured out how to draw the same dramatic energy from a pretty sunset as from a shark attack. But he is working against considerable odds. We know the ending. When the crew is about to behead the hero, we're not exactly worried about his welfare. We know he'll live to spread pestilence throughout the New World.

"The Discovery" isn't completely reverential -- Columbus drinks and gets hysterical -- but it really doesn't concern itself with the historical consequences of the explorer's find either. What it offers is a portrait of the Genoan visionary as sea hunk, and manages to make the portentous moment of discovery, the setting of feet on the sands, about as emotionally thrilling as two-man beach volleyball.

"Christopher Columbus: The Discovery" is rated PG-13 for violence and nudity.

   
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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