02/03/1997 at 01:00 AM EST
, Chris O'Donnell
War is hell, love stinks, and that is why Ernest Hemingway ended up both a great writer and a rotten human being. Those are the principal themes of a very dull biographical movie by director Richard Attenborough (Gandhi). O'Donnell plays the 18-year-old Hemingway, a daring puppy who volunteers for the Red Cross ambulance brigade in Italy during World War I. Bullock is Agnes von Kurowsky, the American nurse who was Hemingway's lover and the inspiration for Catherine Barkley, the heroine of his 1929 novel A Farewell to Arms. Attenborough has filmed their affair with a dewy chasteness that would have seemed out of date even before Archduke Ferdinand was shot.
Bullock, at least, is well cast: Her white nurse's uniform does nothing to diminish her physical appeal, and it nicely heightens her prim seriousness. O'Donnell, however, can't handle any nuance subtler than boyish hurt. He doesn't even wear a beard convincingly. The English Patient covers similar terrain with considerably more daring. (PG-13)