Associated Press
Javier Bardem stars as Florentino and Giovanna Mezzogiorno as Fermina in the movie adaptation of "Love in the Time of Cholera."
LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA — * 1/2 — Javier Bardem, Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Benjamin Bratt; rated R (sex, nudity, violence, vulgarity, profanity, brief drugs)

It's been nearly 15 years since filmmakers turned the beloved Isabel Allende novel "The House of Spirits" into an overripe melodrama. Apparently the lessons learned from that disaster were lost on the makers of the movie version of "Love in the Time of Cholera."

In adapting Gabriel Garcia Marquez's best-selling book, they encountered some of the same problems, including the use of unconvincing old-age makeup, fake facial hair and bad Spanish accents adopted by non-Latin actors. (Thankfully, only one or two actors do that here. In "House of Spirits," it was leads Meryl Streep, Glenn Close and Winona Ryder.)

The film also has major story construction problems, somehow managing to be overlong yet sketchy.

If there is a saving grace of "Cholera," it's actor Javier Bardem. He stars as Florentino Ariza, who has fallen in love — at first sight — with Fermina Daza (Giovanna Mezzogiorno).

He courts Fermina, largely through letters, and even proposes to her. Unfortunately, her father, Lorenzo (John Leguizamo), wants the girl to marry a rich and important man.

He gets his wish when she agrees to marry Juvenal Urbino (Benjamin Bratt), an influential physician. When he hears the news, the broken-hearted Florentino becomes a Don Juan in an attempt to forget his lost love.

This nearly-complete misfire is a collaborative effort between director Mike Newell, screenwriter Ronald Harwood and a cast that also includes Fernanda Montenegro and Liev Schreiber.

Of the bunch, only Bardem escapes relatively unscathed. But he's saddled with Italian actress Mezzogiorno, who makes Fermina rather unlikable. We're not sure why anyone would spend so much time longing for someone this unpleasant.

That role probably should have gone to Catalina Sandino Moreno, who gives a lively performance in a brief supporting turn as Fermina's free-spirited cousin.

"Love in the Time of Cholera" is rated R for simulated sex and other sexual content, female and partial male nudity, war violence (including explosive mayhem), strong sexual language (vulgar slang, sexual profanity and other suggestive talk), and brief drug content and references (including use of a sedative). Running time: 138 minutes.


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