The tip-off is in the accents.
"Christopher Columbus: The Discovery" has the Italian explorer played by a French actor, George Corraface. And when he finally meets up with Spanish King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, who should he find but Tom Selleck, with his decidedly American speech, and Rachel Ward, who makes no effort to hide her British roots. Marlon Brando, as Torquemada, just mumbles . . . but then, what did you expect?
Though the film is directed by James Bond veteran John Glen, from a script (that probably has a lot of fingerprints on it) credited to John Briley ("Gandhi") and Mario Puzo ("The Godfather," "Superman"), the creative imprint most in evidence is that of producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind, the father-son team responsible for the first three "Superman" films, "Supergirl" and "Santa Claus." All were expensive, bloated epics, and in the case of the latter two, without the profit to justify the cost.
"Christopher Columbus: The Discovery," which obviously isn't cheap, with plenty of location shooting and loads of extras, is doomed to a similar fate.
In its early scenes, Corraface plays Columbus as Indiana Jones, then, when he is refused the ships he desires to find a new route to the Indies, he becomes a brooding martyr. Eventually, Columbus gets his ships, of course, and he becomes Errol Flynn, swashbuckling on the high seas. Ultimately, he "discovers" America, leaves a crew behind to corrupt the "Indians" and returns to Italy in triumph.
If this film were less superficial it might warrant some analysis about the way the character of Columbus is portrayed. But it's all so silly, even idiotic, that the only acknowledgment it needs is a simple warning to the potential audience: "Don't bother."
When Selleck appears on the screen, as a bored, sardonic Ferdinand, the sight of him in long hair, beard and 15th-century garb caused the audience at the screening I attended to titter helplessly. Ward is required to play Isabella as if she's physically attracted to Columbus (the trailers say, " . . . he seduced a queen . . . "), though she looks as if she'd be more at home with " `Crocodile' Dundee." And Brando apparently just wants to read his cue cards and go home.
As for Corraface, he merely poses, content to play Columbus as a hero whose crew lets him down. He also has a mystic sense of when the wind will come up and, at one point during the "Mutiny on the Bounty" sequence is about to let himself be decapitated, until a rising wind convinces the crew he's not such a bad captain after all.
"Christopher Columbus: The Discovery" is rated PG-13 for considerable violence and nudity, with a few profanities and a brief sex scene.