Movie Review - Evita
'Evita' cries
for strong storytelling

Despite good performances, weak songs and fragmented plot drag down Madonna spectacle

The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Disney hype machine has been so hard at work turning Evita into an ''event'' that it seems almost superfluous to judge it as a film.

True, the musical biography of the late first lady of Argentina does arrive via the medium of film -- as opposed to, say, ice skating -- and it is full of striking images.

But just as an ice show might deliver entertaining sights without amounting to a hill of beans artistically, Evita succeeds as spectacle without the drama, insight or catharsis we normally associate with a meaningful film experience.

The problem is certainly not one of looks. Director Alan Parker makes excellent use of the Argentine locales and his own affinity for music films (The Commitments, Fame, Pink Floyd: The Wall). His shots of gauchos racing across sun-drenched pampas alongside steam trains, or of grieving, shadowed dancers gliding through a stately tango provide the movie's most poignant and memorable visions.

The cast likewise cannot be faulted. Jonathan Pryce, one of the best English-speaking actors alive, is fine as Gen. Juan Peron, the dictatorial leader who married an actress and watched her become an icon. Antonio Banderas, of all people, turns out to be a confident, dramatic singer in the role of Che, a one-man Greek chorus who pours cynicism on Eva Peron's ambition and political delusions.

Madonna as Eva clearly gives it her all, stretching her middling vocal skills to match the demands of the role. The effort shows, but not so much that it disguises her passionate emotional commitment to the character.

The movie's weakness ultimately traces back to its source material, in this case the wildly popular stage show from composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice.

Storytelling is the first thing we ask from a film, but Evita is fatally hobbled by the fragmentary, operetta-lite structure favored by Messrs. Webber and Rice. There is no narration and virtually no dialogue to advance the plot; the songs alone convey the information, and the songs are just not that strong.

They are too sketchy and unrefined to make good stories, and too simplistic to make good drama. They don't even work well as theatrical music. The lyrics are clumsy and forced; the tunes sound so much alike that they all end up expressing nothing so much as an overwrought demand for attention.

The result is beautiful but pointless. The audience ultimately knows very little about this slum girl who slept her way to the top, forged a political stranglehold on her nation, became a beloved patron of the poor and died young.

There's drama enough for 10 films in that life story; but what we have here is little more than an opulent, two-and-a-quarter-hour music video.

(PG; suggested illicit sex) Madonna, Antonio Banderas, Jonathan Pryce. 134 minutes. At National Amusements.