Mills & Boon meets Greek myth in Anthony Minghella's episodic epic, which takes excellent actors and dunks them in romance so gloopy they drown. Adapted from Charles Frazier's acclaimed novel (an American Civil War-set riff on Homer's Odyssey), it sees Confederate soldier Inman (Jude Law) trekking from the front lines to the town of Cold Mountain to reunite with his would-be lover, Ada (Nicole Kidman). It's a journey full of incident, but no soul.
Attempting to avoid his army's lynch mobs and Yankee patrols, Inman encounters both hardship and humour, in the form of a promiscuous priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman), desperate single mum (Natalie Portman), and lusty ladies, among others.
Meanwhile, Ada moons around writing him lengthy letters, until the rough'n'ready Ruby (Renée Zellweger) arrives to help her run the farm - and fend off the aggressive advances of Ray Winstone's big-bearded villain.
"IT COULD BE A MONTY PYTHON SKETCH"
It's war and pieces, as we flick back and forth, scenes enlivened by quality character actors (the brilliant Brendan Gleeson, Giovanni Ribisi) and Zellweger's lively, film-stealing turn.
If only Kidman could give her (considerably less interesting) character similar zest. Instead, she pouts her way through the part of Southern Belle, like a child playing dress up.
Law (so superb in Minghella's The Talented Mr Ripley) is more impressive as the war-worn veteran. But his most significant achievement is not laughing when required to shout, "Move away from the baby!", in a scene so straight-faced and silly it could be a Monty Python sketch.
"NOTHING TROUBLES THE TEAR DUCTS"
Together, they are deadly: devoid of the chemistry necessary to make you care. Their vomit-inducing soft-focus longing contrasts oddly with the effective, intelligent use of harsh, shocking violence; their turgid dialogue is even mocked by another character. Yet that cannot excuse it.
Every 'moving' moment is suffocated by the stringy score, but nothing troubles the tear ducts. Cold Mountain is so full of hot air, any emotion is blown away - gone, with the wind.
Cold Mountain is released in West End cinemas on Friday 26th December 2003 and nationwide on 2nd January 2004.