Picks and Pans Review: Little Buddha

updated 06/06/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/06/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Keanu Reeves, Alex Wiesendanger, Ying Ruocheng

Little Buddha is supposed to be all about enlightenment—a Tibetan Buddhist monk (Ruocheng) zeroes in on a little American boy (Wiesendanger) as the possible reincarnation of a beloved teacher—but it feels more like a guided tour of corporate headquarters. Every-detail is polished to a uniform shine, displayed in its proper place and accorded its due, hushed respect. Your part in this procession, which ranges from Katmandu to Seattle, is simply to gaze on in grateful awe. If you try to do anything more—if you wonder, for instance, how director Bernardo Bertolucci got it into his head that an audience wouldn't mind two hours of his condescension—you will probably just lose your temper.

Bertolucci intertwines the modern tale with the ancient story of Prince Siddhartha (Reeves, in a variety of togas, hairstyles and jewelry) and his search for spiritual meaning. This half of the film plays out as a series of lavishly illustrated, amber-lit tableaux. Trying to whip things up near the end, the director unexpectedly tosses in a few Cecil B. De Mille storm effects, and Reeves, finally achieving nirvana, is surrounded by a butter-colored nimbus that makes him look like a divine piece of toast. (PG)

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