Stuck in release limbo after the Columbine tragedy mirrored O's plotline a little too closely, Tim Blake Nelson's modern-day take on Shakespeare's Othello finally arrived to a muted response.

Not fair. Sure, it's not as dynamic as Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet - - what is? - - but the decision to plonk the Bard's tale of jealousy, betrayal and death in a US high school works surprisingly well. The strong lead performances certainly help: Mekhi Phifer is magnetic as the gifted basketball star Odin, while Josh Hartnett plays against type as the insecure, bitter Hugo. The weak link is Julia Stiles' Desi, the talented actress not given enough material to allow her to compete with the lads' warring egos.

No matter, there's enough here to please both the fans of the original play and those Bard-phobics who think the Moor Of Venice is where they keep the spare gondolas.

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