Alex Bailey, Warner Bros.
Emily Rossum as Christine and Gerard Butler as the title character in "The Phantom of the Opera."

As it turns out, those rabid Michael Crawford fans who were up in arms about the stage star not being cast as the title character in the cinematic version of the "The Phantom of the Opera" musical may have been right.

We may never know how such rumored movie Phantoms as John Travolta and Antonio Banderas would have fared in the part, it's safe to say that they — and most certainly Crawford — would have been better than Scottish actor Gerard Butler, who simply grunts, barks and yells his way through nearly all of his featured musical numbers.

Not that he's the only one to blame for the off-key notes in this sour big-screen musical. It's clear that this kind of cornball, overly melodramatic material is best kept to the stage.

Also, director Joel Schumacher's trademark garish and grotesque visual aesthetic might seem well-suited to such a project, but it actually works to the detriment of the movie, making it feel even more cheesy.

As far as its faithfulness to the source material is concerned, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber's ber-popular stage musical is pretty much the same on the big screen, with even bigger production values.

Most of the story — except the black-and-white wraparound sequences — is set in 1870s Paris, in the Opera Populaire, which is where young chorus girl Christine Daae (Emmy Rossum) finds herself. She's given the chance to perform as the lead soprano in the opera's latest production when the resident diva, Carlotta (Minnie Driver), storms off in a huff.

To everyone's surprise, Christine shines in her moment in the spotlight, impressing not only the crowd but also the theater's new patron, Raoul (Patrick Wilson), who just happens to be her childhood sweetheart. However, waiting in the wings is Christine's musical coach, the mysterious Phantom (Butler) who is proud of his protZgZ but more than a little jealous of the attention Raoul is paying to her.

All three leads are fairly inexpressive when they're not singing, and Butler's musical talents leave a lot to be desired. And the rather sluggish pacing makes the whole thing seem even longer.

"The Phantom of the Opera" is rated PG-13 for violence (swordfighting, strangulation and a beating) and some disturbing images, scattered use of mild profanity, glimpses of nude artwork (and a male backside), and some vulgar behavior. Running time: 143 minutes.