Charlize Theron, winner of last year's Best Actress Oscar for her sympathetic portrayal of a monstrous serial killer, makes a bid for this year's Worst Actress Oscar for her pathetic portrayal of an apolitical party girl in Head in the Clouds. Theron's Gilda is supposed to remind us of Rita Hayworth's Gilda - a bombshell who makes her own rules, the rest of the world be damned. But not only does Theron seem miscast in a period drama calling for Casablanca-like acting, she seems completely at sea, clueless to her own cluelessness. A romantic epic that's set in Paris during the '30s and '40s, with a side trip to the Spanish Civil War, Head in the Clouds wants to be The English Patient, pitting love and politics against each other in a battle to the death. But writer-director John Duigan doesn't have the epic touch. The movie's sketchy, sometimes ludicrously so.
If nothing else, Theron looks fetching, gliding across the screen in a succession of hairstyles and outfits, from Louise Brooks to Jean Harlow and beyond. Gilda is a free spirit who does her best thinking in bed, but her heart, for some reason, belongs to Guy, a British chap fresh out of Cambridge who's lamely played by Theron's real-life boyfriend, Stuart Townsend. To say that Theron and Townsend have no chemistry is to ignore the many scenes where Gilda and Guy go at it like horny rabbits, but the script gives them little else to do with their mouths. They're locked in an on-again, off-again relationship that makes room for Penélope Cruz's Mia, a Spanish stripper-turned-nurse who walks with a Hemingway limp. (I'm not making this stuff up.) And it's all très moderne until Hitler shows up, putting a crimp in everybody's style.
"I don't believe in countries much," Gilda says, signaling her lack of interest in politics. "Neither do I," Guy says, signaling his interest in the international brotherhood of whatever. One can imagine a movie where those two opposing points of view set off romantic sparks. One can even imagine calling it The Way We Were. But Head in the Clouds takes neither love nor war seriously. Head in the Sand is more like it.