Traipsing across Middle-earth, um, Europe, with guides Sam - sorry - Alex and Gollum - dammit - Grandfather, in a desperate trek to Mordor - well, some gaff in the Ukraine... The second epic journey of Elijah Wood cribs Rings' quest, but ditches its gloom. While Frodo went to Mount Doom to destroy, here Wood's character travels to collect memories ("Sometimes I'm afraid I'll forget...").
The latest attempt by the Hobbit-that-was to shatter his cuddly typecast sees him as a besuited fish-out-of-water; an oddball horder with assorted trinkets smothering his bedroom walls. By basing the film on Jonathan Safran Foer's (yes, author and character share names - it's a touch smug) short story 'A Very Rigid Search' - rather than the literarily subversive titular novel actor-turned-director Liev Schreiber has gutted half the tale and pushed Foer's roadtrip into focus. He ought to propel the action, but Wood's frowning, whining and wimping feels peculiarly ordinary... especially next to Hutz's Jacko-wacko Alex.
Plucked from gypsy-punk band Gogol Bordello - who cameo playing 'The Star-Spangled Banner' - Hutz is extraordinary. Faithful to the novel's hilarious prose, Alex gabbers like a walking thesaurus, "digs negroes" and talks baloney to his young brother about 69ers. He's dressed like a chav (circa 1983) and his fractured English ranges from the unintentionally hilarious ("John Holmes has a premium penis. Everyone in the Ukraine has a premium penis!") to the unintentionally touching (his grandfather is "dreaming all the time, even when not in a repose").
But in a film of, essentially, three actors, Hutz is so impressive that he sucks up much of the plot - to the extent that when the semi-mythical village of Trachimbrod is reached, the revelation is underwhelming. With leaves gradually fluttering from his family tree, Wood's geeky, subdued Jewish-American has taken time to embrace the past. His story should be deeply poignant, but instead, it ends up being upstaged by a shell-suited, breakdancing Ukrainian loon.
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The plot fails to catch fire, but Eugene Hutz is the find of the year in this dreamy, slow, muted film - wistful, yet oddly emotionless.