Romance Doesn't Show Up In 'Water For Elephants'

Water For Elephants gives off an air of self-satisfaction. It's got a best-selling book as source material, a circus as its setting, and actors like Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson and Oscar winner Christoph Waltz as its stars. While the visual spectacle of a Depression-era circus is splendid, the romance that sold all those copies of the book is not there.

MARY LOUIE KELLY, host:

When a book sells millions of copies, it's a safe bet that a film version is on the way. Kenneth Turan has our review of the latest example: "Water For Elephants."

KENNETH TURAN: "Water For Elephants" gives off an air of self-satisfaction. It's got a best seller as source material, a circus as its setting, and actors like Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson and Oscar-winning Christoph Waltz.

But while the visual spectacle of a Depression-era circus is splendid, the romance that sold all those copies of the book is not there.

Young Jacob Jankowski, played by Pattinson, had his life as a country vet all planned. But his luck turns bad and the freight he hops turns out to be a circus train. Almost immediately he finds himself confronted by August, the circus' dangerous, mercurial owner, played by Waltz.

(Soundbite of movie, "Water for Elephants")

Mr. CHRISTOPH WALTZ (Actor): (as August): You ride my train, you eat my food without my permission while hardworking men labor all day for the same privileges. And these filthy roustabouts are my family. You, you are an intruder. Next stop throw him off. Probably studied poetry.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROBERT PATTINSON (Actor): (as Jacob Jankowski) I studied veterinary science not poetry.

Mr. WALTZ: Veterinary sciences? What school?

Mr. PATTINSON: Cornell.

Mr. WALTZ: You're a Cornell graduate?

TURAN: Jacob ends up sticking around, and he can't help being drawn to August's wife, the beautiful platinum blonde Marlena, played by Witherspoon, who's the circus's star attraction. Before you know it, she's telling him her life story.

(Soundbite of movie, "Water for Elephants")

Ms. REESE WITHERSPOON (Actor): (As Marlena): When I was five, for an entire year I pretended my mom was an Appaloosa mare. I did. And that I was a filly and that I was just dreaming that I was a girl and that one day I'd wake up and I'd run home. Then the circus came to town.

TURAN: The romance of the carnival is strong in this film, and that's the element viewers will remember most. Fans of the "Twilight" series who are looking forward to seeing Robert Pattinson are not going to be pleased to hear this, but the film's weakest link is the romance.

"Water For Elephants" offers a lot to look at, just not enough to feel.

KELLY: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for Morning Edition and the Los Angeles Times.

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