January 12, 2006

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FILM: Casanova (PG-13)

by Amy Diaz

Heath Ledger stars in Casanova, to remind you that not only is he not gay but heís quite attractive to the ladies.

Or maybe itís just coincidence that Ledger gets the big break of his movie career playing an angst-filled cowboy and simultaneously is in theaters in this bit of sudsy-yet-hetero fluff. Sure, I can play serious roles, even kiss a boy on screen, young Heath seems to say, but donít worry, Iím still a girl-scoring scamp.

Or maybe he just needed the money.

Whatever drove Ledger to Casanova is doubtlessly better explained than what drives Casanova (Ledger) to women ó namely, that his mom left him as a boy. In his 20s, Casanova has styled himself as the George Clooney of 18th-century Venice, a man so desired that women donít even seem to mind that they can only possess him for but a night.

He seduces nuns, virgins, widows and married ladies but, unluckily for Casanova, his charms do not extend to the Catholic church. The pope and his Roman associates see Casanova as a symbol of all that is immoral about Venice and so they are forever trying to tag him with some indecency charge that will stick. The Dennis the Menace of romance, however, Casanova keeps slipping the noose. Desperate to keep his friend alive, the Doge of Venice (Tim McInnerny) tells him to find a nice girl to settle down with, one who will make him appear moral.

He picks Victoria (Natalie Dormer), who unbeknownst to him (heck, and her) is the true love of Giovanni Bruni (Charlie Cox). Bruni stares across the canal and watches her longingly and, when he sees she is engaged, challenges Casanova to a duel. Casanova accepts but ends up dueling Francesca Bruni (Sienna Miller), Giovanniís smarter, more skilled sister. Bruni isnít just a closet fencer, sheís a closet philosopher who writes screeds on behalf of womenís rights under a male pseudonym. Sheís also bound by contract, and by an obligation to provide for her poverty-stricken family, to marry the portly Paprizzio.

So begins a prolonged romantic chase where Casanova (whom Francesca despises by reputation but doesnít know personally) lies about his identity and his engagement to attempt to win Francesca without tipping off Victoria, who he may still have to marry. Meanwhile Francesca is attempting to figure out if the man Casanova is pretending to be is really the enlightened sensitive guy he seems to be or just a horndog spouting lines to try to get in her corset.

And then thereís Pucci (Jeremy Irons), the popeís inquisitor. Heís in Venice to root out heresy and specifically to root out the heretics that are Casanova and Francescaís alter-ego philosopher.

Love festoons Casanova like Valentineís Day paraphernalia at the local Rite Aid. Casanova climbs in and out of windows, girls prance around in dresses that look like Faberge eggs and the whole film has a cotton candy feel of sweetness and sunshine. And so, if lace handkerchiefs are not your thing, donít carry one. If they are, this oneís pretty enough.

What Casanova does not do is transcend. This plot is no different than when it appeared as Hitch or Sheís All That or any time the player realized that brains were the sexiest body part of all. The movie offers nothing to those not predisposed to like it.

Well, OK, not entirely. The pudgy Paprizzio is, at first, your stock horrible fiancť but it turns out that he has layers and, unlike Casanova himself, something of a spine. And, when he realizes that Francesca has fallen for somebody else, heís delighted because heís all atwitter with attraction to Andrea (Lena Olin), Francescaís widowed mother. A fat guy in love who picks the older woman over the young hottie? Now thereís a heart of a different color.

C