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'Elephants' visual stunner, emotional clunker

By: Frank Miller - Special to News Messenger
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For a film about forbidden love to work, you need to believe that the two main characters care for each other and that their feelings grow organically from a shared passion. “Water for Elephants” presents a case where the two lead actors have no chemistry and yet audiences are still supposed to buy that these characters have a special bond, yet there is no evidence to support this. Robert Pattinson plays Jacob, a college student studying to become a veterinarian whose life is turned upside down after the untimely death of his parents. With no home and no profession, Jacob takes a job caring for circus animals. Along the way, he falls in love with the circus owner’s wife, Marlena, played by Reese Witherspoon. The two bond while training the circus’ new elephant, Rosie, and protecting Marlena from her violent husband, August. The problem with Jacob and Marlena’s romance is that there is seemingly no reason why these two would end up with each other. Maybe Marlena is fed up with August’s fiery ways, and sure, Jacob throws a few well-timed compliments her way but these two really don’t have anything in common. Director Francis Lawrence (“Constantine,” “I Am Legend”) has a background in special-effects/heavy action movies and his lack of experience with character-driven dramas is painfully evident. This is the type of story where the two characters need to have a basic human bond beyond training a pachyderm. Inspiration, empathy and palpable attraction are all elements that should have been better implemented. Maybe Sara Gruen’s novel, which the film is based on, explores the romance with more nuances but you wouldn’t be able to tell by the hack job that is put on display in the film. As it stands, “Water for Elephants” is a visual stunner and emotional clunker, content with dazzling your eyes but leaving you without any substance or lingering emotions. Frank Miller is a Sacramento writer. ---------- Directed by Francis Lawrence Starring: Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon and Christoph Waltz Rating: Two out of five stars