RATING: 1 star (out of 4)
Whether it comes to movies (or improbable tales of sexual conquests you share with your buddies), there’s something to be said for exaggeration for effect. The Monuments Men doesn’t buy that argument, and instead stays dedicated to the true, painfully dull story about professor types who traveled Europe during World War II, trying to save all the art it could before the Nazis destroyed it or the Soviets swiped it.
There were many ways this movie could have rocked, and this movie– co-written, directed by, and starring George Clooney–shies away from them all, only to belly flop in a puddle of awful.
If only Matt Damon had punched a Nazi, or better, a Nazi zombie, in the face with one hand as he rescued the Mona Lisa from the face-melting fire of the Lost Ark with his left. If only John Goodman had sat on a Soviet general who tried to make off with the arms of Michelangelo’s David. If only Clooney had seduced Eva Braun, only to slip off her clothes and remove the hidden key inside her locket to gain access to Hitler’s secret storage facility, where he had some Monets stashed. If only Bill Murray had wormed his way out of a death sentence by firing squad by doing that weird thing he did with his eyes in Meatballs and Caddyshack.
But noooooo. Instead, The Monuments Men plays it by the book, avoiding car chases, vine-swinging rescues, explosions you dive away from and boss fights in which the hero and villain dispense with their weapons to fist fight and ‘rassle. The movie, which would have been better served as a PBS documentary, is mostly a series of barely-comprehensible meetings over map tables, walk-and-talks and shots of wide-eyed heroes ripping apart canvas bags to reveal hidden paintings and sculptures.
That approach might have worked had the dialogue been sharp, the story contained suspense and the chemistry among the stars been intense, but none of that happens. Instead, Clooney throws a World War II re-enactment party filled with mega-star guests who do their best not to roll their eyes and slip out the back door when nobody’s looking.
As the conflict on the European theater winds down in the mid 1940s, the Monuments Men suit up and roll out, splitting up to wander around aimlessly until they stumble upon priceless art stashed away by the Germans or French Resistance. It’s a long, dull struggle that plays out like deleted scenes from American Pickers, with precious little action or conflict. There are a couple of showdowns and tense meetings, but they’re resolved quickly to get back to the aimless wandering.
With as much star power as this movie packs, you’d think it would somehow luck into being at least halfway watchable. But the actors all slip into their demure characters with such dedication that they barely allow any personality to show. Clooney and Damon do some moderate hamming, and Murray has one precious moment where he peels off the decades of disaffected angst and goes all Stripes.
But nothing in this movie clicks, and as a result the tired affair seems to take longer than World War II itself. For a movie with heroes obsessed with saving classic creations, The Monuments Men fails to become worthwhile art itself.
Starring George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman and Cate Blacnhett. Written by Clooney and Grant Heslov, based on the book by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter. Directed by Clooney. Rated PG-13. 118 minutes.