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Emmerich makes much ado about nothing with ‘Anonymous’

Courtesy of Sony Pictures

Alien invasions. Mayan apocalypse. Global warming-induced catastrophe. Shakespeare.

One of those things is not like the other.

This is “Anonymous,” the latest go from Roland Emmerich, whose string of big-budget disaster flicks is interrupted by a costume drama, of all things.

“Anonymous” posits the theory that William Shakespeare’s works were actually ghostwritten by Edward de Vere (Rhys Ifans), the 17th Earl of Oxford, who fell into a life of poverty and disassociation from the royal family.

You see, in 16th-century England, artistry was taboo. But apparently not as taboo, in fact, as the rampant incest running through “Anonymous,” as the film tells us through a series of flashbacks upon flashbacks that de Vere, the illegimate son of Queen Elizabeth, was bedding Elizabeth’s daughter, Elizabeth I (Vanessa Redgrave, Joely Richardson).

Needless to say, “Anonymous” gets a bit convoluted.

The story jumps back and forth through time, starting when de Vere was brought into the royal family and ending, summarily, with his demise. The constant jumps and the seemingly endless revolving door of actors makes “Anonymous” somewhat hard to follow, despite a fairly interesting premise.

“Anonymous” tries to tell us that de Vere paid off a buffoon of a stage actor named William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall), who took credit for the famous odes, including “Romeo and Juliet,” “Julius Caesar” and “King Lear,” which Emmerich not so subtly chooses to sample with the plays’ most famous bits of prose.

It must be noted that literary critics have said Emmerich’s ideas in “Anonymous” are a work of fiction, and Emmerich told The Lantern that the literary establishment in England has taken issue with his theories. Still, the idea is an interesting enough one that it could have been successful in a big-budget piece of popcorn entertainment.

Despite the film’s flaws, Emmerich deserves credit for working with an impressive script. John Orloff’s work is a solid one, and apparently got him the writing gig for HBO’s “Band of Brothers.”

Plus, “Anonymous” isn’t a film the destruction-loving director is known for, and thus he deserves some credit for tackling a film that could be construed as something out of his comfort zone.

Though he did helm 2000’s “The Patriot,” Emmerich has built a name for himself with disaster flicks like “Independence Day” and “The Day After Tomorrow.” And, thankfully, “Anonymous” is a tremendous improvement on the absolute drivel Emmerich produced with 2009’s “2012.”

However, what entertainment value Emmerich’s tentpole flicks had is hard to find here, as “Anonymous” doesn’t offer anything particularly new to the costume drama genre, apart from some CGI overhead shots of the Globe Theater and 16th-century London.

But, unfortunately for “Anonymous,” it doesn’t do a particularly fine job in the pacing department, and ultimately becomes a long-winded, somewhat hard-to-follow exercise in standard costume drama fare.

“Anonymous” is scheduled to hit theaters Friday.


Grade: C

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