Picks and Pans Review: First Knight

updated 07/10/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/10/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Sean Cannery, Richard Gere, Julia Ormond, Ben Cross, Sir John Gielgud

There aren't many surprises in this nonmusical retelling of the Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot love triangle. There is fun to be had, though, for fans of Connery and Gere—or for those whose appetite for swordplay and damsels in distress wasn't sated by this spring's Rob Roy and Braveheart.

Connery, who does nothing well if not hauteur, is a model Arthur, Scottish accent notwithstanding. Gere gets the vain, patronizing part of Lancelot just right, but never seems all that stalwart, huffing and puffing painfully during some action scenes. And when he and Connery are on-camera together, it's like a tiger fighting a house tabby. Connery, in terms of physicality, presence and, of course, diction, eats Gere up.

Fleeting distraction is provided by the bland Ormond, whose Guinevere becomes enamored of Lancelot even as she prepares to marry her royal neighbor (and her father's pal) Connery. The latter poignantly sketches the halting passions of a man who has sacrificed his personal life to war and has no idea how to behave around women. Ormond, though, never seems very involved, even when she is supposed to be swooning over Connery or Gere.

Cross, meanwhile, is a typically upstaging nouveau villain, all bulging eyes and braying voice. Gielgud, 91, as Ormond's trusted advisor, is a movable oasis of stability—and subtle acting. Still, this ageless story lends itself to romanti-cization much more than it does to the literal-minded, serious treatment it is here accorded. In the end, director Jerry Zucker and screenwriter William Nicholson mostly demonstrate how smart Lerner and Loewe were to set the whole business to music. (PG-13)

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