"Wilde" is a film that's doomed to fail by comparison.

For one thing, screenwriter Julian Mitchell uses some of Oscar Wilde's writings to create what's supposed to be realistically Wildean dialogue (bad move). He also makes the mistake of using Richard Ellman's biography "Oscar Wilde" for inspiration, even when he obviously knew he wouldn't be able to delve into the issues nearly as deeply as the book did.

The result is a superficial drama that seems to be more concerned with portraying realistic gay sex scenes more than with telling us what made the man tick. That's especially unfortunate considering the strength of the lead performance by the multi-talented actor Stephen Fry (from public television's "Jeeves and Wooster" series).Fry, who is a novelist in his own right, does a credible job of portraying the controversial 19th-century author, who is remembered as much for being convicted of homosexual conduct in 1895 as he is for his literary career.

The film covers much of Wilde's post-literary career, beginning with his realization about his own sexuality. Though married to his sweetheart, Constance (Jennifer Ehle), Oscar is seduced by his houseguest, Robert Ross (Michael Sheen).

Later, he finds himself attracted to an Oxford University undergraduate, Lord Alfred Douglas (Jude Law), better known to friends as "Bosie." As the two begin an on-again, off-again relationship, Oscar finds himself caught up in Bosie's world of illicit sex.

At the same time, Oscar makes a bitter enemy of Bosie's father, the Marquess of Queensbury (Tom Wilkinson). Worse, Bosie convinces Oscar to sue Queensbury for libel, a wrong-headed move that instead exposes his secret and brings shame to his wife and two young sons.

That latter subplot is never explored as it should be. Instead, Mitchell and director Brian Gilbert ("Tom & Viv") put the focus squarely on Oscar and Bosie's relationship.

And despite Fry's eloquent reading of his lines, his character is written as an emotional cipher. It's hard to tell if he cares at all for his wife. And Law is irritatingly over-the-top.

Shame also to any movie that so wastes Vanessa Redgrave, who has a too-small role as Wilde's mother.

"Wilde" is rated R for explicit, simulated gay sex, male nudity, profanity, vulgar sex talk and double-entendres, and some violent confrontations.