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Video: Watch the 'Water for Elephants' trailer

updated 4/21/2011 10:49:52 AM ET 2011-04-21T14:49:52

There are times you should just keep on ignoring the elephant in the room.

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For instance, Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson's "Water for Elephants." The adaptation of Sara Gruen's best-selling novel about romance and intrigue in a Depression-era circus plods along at a pachyderm's pace.

Witherspoon and Pattinson are a three-ring snooze-fest together, bringing little passion to a love story supposedly so fiery, it blows the roof off the big top.

The movie's lone star attraction is Christoph Waltz, who won an Academy Award as a gleefully psychotic Nazi in "Inglourious Basterds" and here delivers another wicked performance as Witherspoon's hubby, the cruel, jealous circus ringleader.

Story: Can Pattinson put a stake through Edward with 'Water for Elephants'?

As sadists go, this guy's an amateur next to Waltz's "Basterds" bad boy, but the actor is so talented, he commands every moment that he's on screen, further highlighting how dull fellow Oscar winner Witherspoon and "Twilight" heartthrob Pattinson are.

Director Francis Lawrence ("Constantine," "I Am Legend") throttles down from action flicks and sputters through this treacly love triangle (or love quadrangle, if you throw in the elephant).

Video: Bloodthirsty Pattinson tastes ‘Water for Elephants’ (on this page)

Like the book, the movie begins with its hero, Jacob, reflecting back on his life from old age, except the situation's been changed from natural ruminations in a nursing home to a clumsy, "Titanic"-style framing story.

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Old Jacob (Hal Holbrook) spins the tale to an eager young circus proprietor (Paul Schneider), the script by Richard LaGravenese burdened with far too much narration, much of it stating the obvious. There's a Depression on; we don't need voice-overs telling us that times are tough.

As the action shifts back to 1931, young Jacob (Pattinson) is sent a-wandering after tragedy wrecks his life and dashes his plans to follow his dad into the veterinary profession.

Penniless, Jacob hops a train that happens to carry the Benzini Bros. Circus, whose star is horseback rider Marlena (Witherspoon), wife of the troupe's autocratic owner, August (Waltz).

Demonstrating his knowledge of animals, Jacob quickly is hired as the circus veterinarian and becomes trainer for Rosie, an elephant that August acquires as his wife's new four-legged co-star.

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Half snake charmer, half brute, August alternately mentors and terrorizes Jacob, whom he inexplicably throws into Marlena's company again and again. Could he really expect Marlena and Jacob to do anything but fall in love?

The romance is utterly predictable and uninvolving, with barely a spark igniting between Witherspoon and Pattinson.

Video: 'Water for Elephants' premiere (on this page)

Waltz thankfully takes the two-dimensional villain crafted by the filmmakers and elevates August to something approaching a full-blooded, loathsome tyrant.

He's so good at being bad that August's physical abuse of the elephant, while watered-down for the screen, looks truly savage. Watching Waltz beat Rosie, hatred for the elephant and hatred for the world seem to rise off his body like steam (don't fret about the elephant, though; the crew used visual effects to create the beating scenes, and the movie comes with the American Humane Association seal of approval that no animals were harmed).

As with the prologue, the filmmakers shift details from the book around trying to make them more cinematic. Rather than heightening the drama, they create a story of implausible convenience, this event following that circumstance following that revelation, just when the characters need them.

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Period details, costumes and production design all are impressive, but "Water for Elephants" shortchanges the circus atmosphere. We get only the barest sense of carny life, and the acts themselves are seen in such fragmentary quick cuts that there's no sense of wonder to it, no clue as to why the rubes come running when the circus rolls into town.

The movie is a long, long way from the greatest show on Earth; at best, it might be the greatest show in your local theater, assuming it's the only film playing there. The more you ignore it, the sooner it will pull up stakes and lumber away to the elephant graveyard.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Robert Pattinson

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  1. Supporting the arts

    Robert Pattinson attends the LACMA Art Gala at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in Los Angeles on Oct. 27, 2012. (Paul Buck / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Fan pleaser

    Pattinson greets fans during a "Breaking Dawn Part 2" event at Fox Studios on Oct. 22, 2012, in Sydney. (Lisa Maree Williams / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Sneak peek

    Peter Facinelli, Elizabeth Reaser, director Bill Condon, Pattinson, Taylor Lautner and Jackson Rathbone attend the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards at Staples Center on Sept. 6 to promote the final installment of "The Twilight Saga" by revealing a trailer for "Breaking Dawn Part 2." (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Forever love

    Pattinson and Kristen Stewart both play vampires in the final "Twilight" film, "Breaking Dawn Part 2." Stewart's character, Bella, transformed at the end of the previous film after giving birth to their child. (Andrew Cooper / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Sign of the Times

    Robert Pattinson attends TimesTalks Presents: David Cronenberg and Robert Pattinson at TheTimesCenter on Aug. 15, 2012, in New York City. (Paul Zimmerman / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. For whom the bell tolls

    Director David Cronenberg and actor Robert Pattinson ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange on Aug. 14, 2012. (Ben Gabbe / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Opening night

    The actor attends the "Cosmopolis" premiere at the Museum of Modern Art on Aug. 13, 2012, in New York City. (Larry Busacca / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Hands up!

    Robert Pattinson in a dramatic moment in the thriller "Cosmopolis." (courtesy Prospero Films) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Surf's up

    Actors Taylor Lautner, Kristen Stewart, and Robert Pattinson accept the Ultimate Choice award onstage during the 2012 Teen Choice Awards on July 22, 2012, in Universal City, California. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. 'Con' artists

    Actors Taylor Lautner, Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart speak onstage during Comic-Con on July 12, 2012, in San Diego. (Michael Buckner / Getty Images for Lionsgate) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Yes we Cannes

    From left, actors Paul Giamatti, Emily Hampshire, Robert Pattinson, director David Cronenberg, and actors Juliet Binoche and Sarah Gadon depart the "Cosmopolis" premiere during the 65th Annual Cannes Film Festival on May 25, 2012. (Andreas Rentz / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Say 'fromage'

    Actor Robert Pattinson poses at the "Cosmopolis" photocall during the 65th Annual Cannes Film Festival on May 25, 2012. (Vittorio Zunino Celotto / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. On the road again

    Robert Pattinson attends the "On The Road" premiere during the 65th Annual Cannes Film Festival on May 23, 2012. (Vittorio Zunino Celotto / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Sprechen sie Deutsch?

    Christina Ricci and Robert Pattinson pose at the photocall for the film "Bel Ami" in Berlin on Feb. 17, 2012. (Gerard Julien / AFP / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Man of the people

    Robert Pattinson accepts Favorite Drama Movie award for "Water for Elephants" from actress Ashley Greene at the 2012 People's Choice Awards on Jan. 11, 2012, in Los Angeles. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. 'Dawn' patrol

    Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart arrive at the premiere of "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1" on Nov. 14, 2011 in Los Angeles. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. TODAY's the day

    Pattinson is interviewed by Ann Curry on the TODAY show. (Peter Kramer / NBC News) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Cementing their fame

    Actor Robert Pattinson, left, poses with his "Twilight Saga" co-stars, Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner after the trio were immortalized in a hand and footprint ceremony at the Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, calif., on Nov. 3, 2011. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Like water for ...

    Pattinson and Stewart go deep for a chilly scene in "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1." (Summit Entertainment) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Another world tour

    Pattinson is all smiles while promoting "Breaking Dawn" at the start of a news conference in Brussels, Belgium, on Oct. 26, 2011. (Yves Herman / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Shirts on, for now

    Pattinson and Lautner speak at a "Breaking Dawn" news conference at Comic-Con in San Diego on July 21, 2011. pattinson told fans not to get their hopes when seeing him with his short off. "I look like an inflatable frankfurter in some of those [scenes]." (Michael Buckner / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. What a bruiser

    Pattinson, left, Xavier Samuel and Bryce Dallas Howard accept the award for best fight at the MTV Movie Awards in Los Angeles on June 5, 2011. (Matt Sayles / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. 'Elephant' man

    Pattinson arrives at the "Water for Elephants" Sydney premiere at the State Theatre in Sydney, Australia, on May 6, 2011. (Marianna Massey / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. He's a little bit country

    Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon present the award for best female vocalist at the 46th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas on April 3, 2011. (Julie Jacobson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Packing his trunk

    Pattinson stars as a veterinary student who hops a train and finds himself working at a Depression-era traveling circus in "Water for Elephants," based on the bestselling book by Sara Gruen. (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Golden boy

    Pattinson arrives at the 68th Annual Golden Globe Awards on Sunday, Jan 16, 2011 in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Jason Merritt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Dynamic trio

    "Twilight" stars Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, and Taylor Lautner accept the award for favorite movie at the People's Choice Awards on Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011, in Los Angeles. (Chris Pizzello / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Back with more bite

    A pale Pattinson and Kristen Stewart star as a vampire and his human love in "The Twilight Saga." (Summit Entertainment) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. De-fanged

    Pattinson hits the red carpet in the U.K. for the premiere of his latest film, "Remember Me," which was released March 12, 2010, to lukewarm reviews. The film allowed the actor to try new things onscreen. "I had never played a normal guy. I've always done period stuff or fantasy stuff," he said. (Joel Ryan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Father-son act

    Pattinson stars in "Remember Me" alongside "Lost" actress Emilie de Ravin, who plays his love interest, and Pierce Brosnan, who portrays his father. The film is a romantic drama about overcoming tragedy to find new meaning in life. (Summit Entertainment) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Stealing hearts and records

    In the second installment of "The Twilight Saga," "New Moon," released in November 2009, Pattinson's Edward breaks Bella's heart when he breaks up with her, thinking it will protect her from vampires. The film broke the midnight box-office record, which was previously held by 2008's "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," as well as the opening day record, with a $72.7 million haul that overtook "The Dark Knight's" previous record of $67.2 million. (Photo: Kimberley French) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Team Edward

    The "Twilight" films sent Pattinson's popularity skyrocketing around the world. In this photo, a fan makes clear she's on Team Edward at a screening of "New Moon" in Munich, Germany, in November 2009. (Alexandra Beier / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Kisses for a cause

    Pattinson appears with movie producer Harvey Weinstein, right, during a benefit for the AmfAR Cinema Against AIDS benefit during Cannes in May 2009. The actor came up with an impromptu auction item: a kiss on the cheek for the highest bidder's daughter. He sold two smooches for $27,600 each. (Matt Sayles / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Going all artsy

    In the film "Little Ashes," Pattinson portrays a young Salvador Dali who finds sexual freedom with poet Frederico Garcia Lorca, played by Javier Beltran. Pattinson told GQ magazine that while filming a graphic interlude, the crew members giggled. (Regent Releasing) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. A role with some bite

    2008's blockbuster "Twilight" catapulted its actors to megastardom. () Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Are they or aren't they?

    Pattinson and Stewart are honored with the best kiss award for their smooch in "Twilight" at the 2009 MTV Movie Awards in May. The couple has dated offscreen as well, though they try to keep their relationship quiet. (Mario Anzuoni / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Not just a pretty face

    In the 2008 coming-of-age comedy "How to Be," Pattinson plays a struggling young poet and musician who invites the author of a self-help book to live with him and his parents. The actor, who plays guitar and piano and composes his own music, had three of his original songs included in the soundtrack for the film. () Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Before the luxurious locks

    In 2007, Pattinson starred in the made-for-TV drama "The Bad Mother's Handbook," which was based on the best-selling novel of the same title by Kate Long. The actor played Daniel, an awkward teenager with bad hair who latches onto a quirky teen girl. (ITV) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Early brooder

    2006 found Pattinson in the made-for-TV film "The Haunted Airman," based on "The Haunting of Toby Jugg" by Dennis Wheatley. The actor stars as the young pilot Toby Jugg, who is sent to a mansion in Wales to recuperate after being injured in action. But once there, he begins to to suspect the methods of his psychiatrist as he attempts to cling to sanity. (E1 Entertainment) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. Magical role

    Pattinson got his big break in the 2005 film "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," in which he played Cedric Diggory. U.K. daily paper The Times named him British Star of Tomorrow for his role as the young wizard, which he reprised in 2007's "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix." () Back to slideshow navigation
  41. The beginning

    Pattinson's first acting job was a supporting role in the Nordic legend that inspired J.R.R. Tolkien to write the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. The actor plays Giselher, the king's brother in "The Ring of the Nibelungs," a 2004 TV movie. (Sony Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: LACMA Artᘩ Gala arrivals
    Paul Buck / EPA
    Above: Slideshow (41) Robert Pattinson
  2. © 2010 Vendome Pictures
    Summit Entertainment
    Slideshow (18) April and May movies - April
  3. Slideshow (9) April and May movies - May

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