Picks and Pans Review: Kingdom of Heaven

UPDATED 05/16/2005 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 05/16/2005 at 01:00 AM EDT

Orlando Bloom, Liam Neeson Jeremy Irons, Eva Green

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Under a spreading cloud of religious conflict, the village smithy stands. He's Balian (Bloom), a blacksmith in 12th-century France who travels to Jerusalem in this dusty, ho-hum epic set during the Crusades. Like the superior Gladiator (2000), also directed by Ridley Scott, Kingdom of Heaven follows a sad-eyed hero who grieves for a lost wife and child and becomes a reluctant warrior. Unlike Gladiator, Heaven fails to tell a compelling tale and its protagonist is a milquetoast.

During the plodding course of Heaven, peace-loving Balian is knighted, falls in love with a married princess (Green, who brings nada to a dopey role), irrigates the desert and advocates for harmonious coexistence among all faiths.

The ambitious film's desert settings are sweeping, its costumes resplendent and Bloom gorgeous to gaze upon, but the whole adds up to a big yawn. Heaven strains to be relevant, showing how the seeds of today's West vs. Middle East conflict were sown centuries ago. But in striving to be an anti-Crusades Crusades picture (the bad guys are a couple of renegade, bloodthirsty Christians), the movie turns into an overly earnest can't-we-all-just-get-along drama enlivened, ironically, only by gory battle scenes. (R)

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