Goofy period comedy can be plenty of fun – Ledger’s A Knight’s Tale is relentlessly silly but entertaining to an embarrassing degree – but Casanova doesn’t seduce so much as lull the audience into a stupor with tedious blather about the battle of the sexes, intermittent but pointless swordplay and clumsy slapstick.
Directed with nauseating cuteness by Lasse Hallstrom (Chocolat, An Unfinished Life), the film aims to be a Three Musketeers meets Shakespeare in Love-type romance, but the script is neither nimble nor clever enough to keep up the swift comic pace required. There’s too much talk, too much filler and not enough wanton sex. Though R-rated, Casanova is weirdly prudish, preferring to hint at lecherous behavior rather than titillate.
In the Venice of 1753, the name "Casanova" sparks fear in every father’s heart and thrills in every woman’s loins. You can tell by the number of times each character utters the name with dastardly relish, which by my count is about 365 times in the first 20 minutes. The Wilt Chamberlain of his day, Casanova (Ledger) beds every female in the licentious city (including, apparently, every nun in one convent) but is ordered to settle down with a nice girl in order to keep the Inquisition off his back.
Once engaged to a horny virgin, he falls for the beautiful Francesca Bruni (Sienna Miller, best known as the scorned woman in fiance Jude Law’s tabloid-fodder nanny escapade) who wears men’s clothing more often than kd lang and is – and here’s something new – bright and headstrong and not easy prey. Except of course she does succumb to Casanova’s practiced lines, because in this Italian city where everyone speaks with an English accent, even the smart chicks are simpletons who swoon when a man so much as offers them a chance to talk.
Jeremy Irons attempts to chew the scenery as an Inquisitor determined to arrest Casanova for something or other, but he’s blown off course by a much better Oliver Platt as Francesca’s portly fiance. Platt, who was nominated for an Emmy last year for TV’s "Huff," deftly swiped The Ice Harvest from John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton, and he’s clearly the best thing in Casanova.
The film does inadvertently raise one intriguing question pertaining to male/female relations: What on Earth is wrong with Jude Law? But the irony of Miller co-starring in a film about the world’s most notorious lothario aside, there’s not much to love about Casanova.