Having barely recouped a fifth of its reported $100m budget in America, The Alamo has already been touted as one of Disney's costliest flops. Yet John Lee Hancock's old-fashioned epic isn't a total turkey. Well-intentioned and well-acted, it's a sumptuously mounted affair boasting a stunning set-piece battle bound to get the pulse racing. Unfortunately it's also sluggish, talky and unfocused, its downbeat revisionism robbing its historical figures of the iconic status that would have made their story worth retelling.
Indeed, Hancock and co-writers Leslie Bohem and Stephen Gaghan seem hell-bent on cutting their heroes down to size. Frontiersman Davy Crockett (Billy Bob Thornton) is depicted as a political opportunist keen on furthering his own legend; General Sam Houston (Dennis Quaid) a maudlin drunk; and Jim Bowie (Jason Patric) a tubercular grump whose outsized knife is dwarfed by his swaggering ego.
"BRITISH AUDIENCES WILL BE NONPLUSSED"
Unless you have a degree in American History, those names won't mean much. And Hancock's most fatal mistake is to assume the viewer is already up to speed on 1830s Texas and the role the Alamo siege played in its fight for independence from Mexico. British audiences will probably be nonplussed, even if they have seen John Wayne's gung-ho 1960 version. Nor will their confusion be lessened by a script that leaps from subplot to subplot with little regard for internal logic.
Of course, it doesn't help that the raid on the Alamo fortress, which sees Crockett and 200 militia meet their maker at the hands of a vastly superior Mexican force, happens two-thirds of the way through the film. There's still Quaid's revenge to be dealt with, a dull coda that adds 40 more minutes to the interminable running time. "Remember the Alamo!" Houston yells as he leads his soldiers into battle. To which one can only reply: "Not bloody likely."