Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Film review: 'Stone of Destiny' weightless bit of whimsy

Charlie Cox and Kate Mara in Stone of Destiny.

By Hap Erstein

There’s a jaunty, jingoistic caper picture waiting to be made from Ian Hamilton’s account of how he and handful of his college pals tried to steal the so-called Coronation Stone from Westminster Abbey on Christmas Eve in 1950.

Unfortunately, Stone of Destiny, Thursday’s opening night feature at the Palm Beach International Film Festival, does not come close to filling that bill.

Directed by Charles Martin Smith (Air Bud, Boris and Natasha) from his hard-to-believe, underwhelming script, it kicks off the festival with a sluggish tone. You will have to keep reminding yourself that the heist -- or something fairly close to it -- actually happened, because it plays on-screen like a far-fetched fable, a bit of Scottish whimsy.

As history buffs may recall, the boulder -- also known as the Stone of Scone, for you rhyme fans -- and its significance goes back to 1296, when English King Edward I seized it from Scotland and had it moved to Westminster Abbey. There it was embedded beneath the coronation throne as a symbol of Scotland’s subservience to England.

Fast forward to 1950, when University of Glasgow student Ian Hamilton (Charlie Cox of Stardust), disheartened by Scotland’s inability to reestablish an independent parliament, decides to steal the symbolic stone and haul it home. Mind you, 1950 was long before the days of caper flicks, which might have helped Hamilton devise a more interesting scheme. Instead, his plan pretty much amounts to sneaking into the abbey, prying out the stone and driving off with it.

Of course, plenty goes wrong even with this sketchy plan, including actually getting caught by a security guard who finds Hamilton hiding out in the abbey after visiting hours. That should end the tale with Hamilton’s arrest, as it likely would today, but instead the guard simply shows him the exit with a friendly admonishment.

Later, a member of Hamilton’s team catches a cold on the designated heist night, the patrolling police are out in greater number than expected and the stone does not prove easy to dislodge. Still, for a national keepsake in a historic edifice, the patriotic prank is fairly easy to pull off, dampening the suspense.

Cox is appealing enough, though not sufficiently charismatic to carry a film like this. Kate Mara (Brokeback Mountain) makes nice Scottish eye candy, but has little to do otherwise. Robert Carlyle (The Full Monty) pops up occasionally as politician John McCormick, who encourages the theft and even bankrolls it, in an amusing conspiracy scene.

Still, Smith is a dry, unimaginative director who may have championed this story for the screen, but he shows little enthusiasm for telling it. If this is what the Palm Beach International Film Festival has chosen for its opening film, it could be a long five days.

STONE OF DESTINY, Palm Beach International Film Festival, Sunrise Cinemas, Mizner Park, Boca Raton. Thursday at 7 p.m. Tickets: $65 for film and after-party. Call: (561) 362-0003.


Anonymous said...

What a complete crock of shit. Where did you learn how to write? Is this a student paper? Get a life, moron.

Luna L. said...

I think you might be missing the point--just because a film is missing the violence/blood/sex, doesn't mean it's dry or unimaginative. I'm a fan of Mr. Martin Smith's directing, and can't wait to see this--hoping it is widely released in the U.S., as I haven't been lucky enough to catch it at any festivals in my area.