When critics use terms like "pretentious," "overly long" and "too full of itself" to describe a movie, the film in question is usually being panned. And to be sure, "Underground" is all of those things and a lot more.

But this wild wartime fan-tasy/drama/dark-comedy is also so passionate, so exciting and so very odd at times that most of its obvious faults can be forgiven. About the only way to describe it is by conjuring up an image of "The Diary of Anne Frank," as directed by French filmmakers Jeunet & Caro ("The City of Lost Children"), with a healthy side helping of Federico Fellini thrown in.It's an ambitious undertaking to be sure, as Serbo-Croatian director Emir Kusturica ("Time of the Gypsies") attempts to chronicle the rise and fall of the former Yugoslavia republic, shown through the eyes of two would-be Robin Hoods, Marko (Miki Manojlovic) and his impetuous friend Blacky (Lazar Ristovski).

As the Germans begin bombing Belgrade in 1941, the two become revolutionary leaders, stealing arms and gold from the Nazis to help fund their country's war efforts. But as the country is overrun by German troops, Blacky is forced to go underground, literally, with friends and family in a subterranean "city" of sorts.

There, he and the others become industrious, making arms for the Yugoslavian resistance forces. Meanwhile, Marko has risen to power in the Communist Party, and he has also seduced Blacky's former love, Natalija (Mirjana Jokovic). Marko and Natalija are profiting from sales of locally made munitions, but they continue to keep the others in the huge cellar, despite the conflict having been over for decades.

It's a bizarre premise, but Kusturica continually changes the tone of the film to keep the audience off-balance. One scene might be farcical, the next tragic, and the result is a dazzling experience.

"Underground" is not rated, but would probably receive an R for profanity, violent gunplay, simulated sex, female nudity, torture, vulgar references, lewd dancing and brief drug use.