Ride with the Devil = boring

By Darby Sawchuk

If someone told Jewel not to quit her day job, we’d be stuck listening to her sing about her hands (they are not yours, stupid) and hearing stories about how she lived in a van a hundred times each week. That’s still better than watching her act.

Jewel, however, is not the only low-point in Ang Lee’s new film, Ride with the Devil. Set during the American Civil War, Lee (Eat Drink Man Woman, Sense and Sensibility) directs a flavour-of-the-month cast through a tale of Southern Bushwhackers fighting battles in Missouri.

Tobey MacGuire (Pleasantville, Deconstructing Harry) plays Jake Roedel, the son of a German immigrant, who with his childhood friend, Jack Bull, played by Skeet Ulrich (Chill Factor, Scream) join the Bushwhackers to combat the Yankee influence in their home state. With sprouting facial hair, (well, MacGuire couldn’t quite pull that off) the two pretty boys confront Yankee soldiers and, eventually, the cold of the winter. Seeking winter shelter from southern sympathizers, the lads hole up with Jewel’s Sue Lee as their patroness.

In the early going, Ride with the Devil is not horrible. With a tolerable pace, the film moves through the leads’ entry into the Bushwhackers and their initial struggles. Quickly enough, however, the length of the "dramatic" pauses become coma inducing. The pace crawls. And, with the introduction of Jewel’s character at the half hour mark, Ride with the Devil becomes an embarrassing farce.

Never expressing any emotion, Sue Lee and Jack Bull develop a contrived romance while stiltedly delivering wonderfully hackneyed dialogue through unbelievable southern accents. Jewel’s film debut is painful to watch. Unable to give Sue Lee any character, Jewel’s performance has the finesse of a 10-year-old.

MacGuire and Ulrich are not too many steps above. The aim of Ride with the Devil was to give a personal side to the Civil War, but the characters have no personality. Consequently, there is no reason to care about the characters and their every move becomes unimportant and boring. Every minute-long pause before their dialogue doesn’t help contribute to the overall excitement of the film

Cliché banjo music and a melodramatic score help to irritate the viewer. In an inappropriate glorification of one of the worst massacres in American history, 180 citizens were killed in the Lawrence Massacre, the score soars in a roaring symphony while Roedel’s mates execute the men and boys of Lawrence.

The few redeeming qualities of Ride with the Devil consist of the photography and the scenery. Lush greens highlighted by radiant yellow sunlight act as setup shots for each scene. But in keeping with the pace of the rest of the film, these shots last far longer than needed.

A good editor could have pared down the length of these shots and the eon-long dramatic pauses to reduce Ride with the Devil from its heavy two-and-a-quarter-hour time span to a light, near-digestible hour. Without such editing work, Ride with the Devil is a boring ordeal that will leave moviegoers fumbling for a phantom remote control.

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