BY LEAH ROZEN
Read the book. Or watch the classic 1949 film version, which won an Oscar for Best Picture. They'll serve you better than this flaccid remake of All the King's Men by writer-director Steven Zaillian (A Civil Action), which given the talent involved has to be considered a major disappointment.
Based on Robert Penn Warren's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1946 novel, Men centers on the rise and fall of Willie Stark (Penn), a self-described "redneck hick" elected governor of Louisiana in the 1930s. A populist reformer who enters politics with honorable intentions, Stark is soon greedily lining his own pockets even as he makes good on promises to help the poor by squeezing the rich. (Warren based Stark on Huey Long, the famed Louisiana governor and, later, senator. This film underscores the link when Stark records "Every Man a King," a ditty cowritten and sung by Long.)
When Penn is onscreen, oozing country charm, Men crackles with energy. Heck, anyone would vote for this guy. But other characters pale next to his, chunks of character development seem to have gone missing in the editing room, and rococo plot twists involving an idealistic adviser (Law), a judge (Hopkins) and a society dame (Winslet) drag on endlessly, making the whole affair as enervating as Louisiana humidity. (PG-13)