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This latest "Joan of Arc" remake is overwrought, overproduced and overly confusing. 

Shoot This "Messenger"

Perhaps I was feeling cranky the day I sat through "Joan of Arc: The Messenger." But this latest retelling of the story of one of history's most inspiring feminist heroes left me reeling. Unfortunately, not in the good sense.

Directed in the cinematic style equivalent of too many exclamation points, every aspect of this version is underscored, highlighted and hammered home. It's McJoan, super-sized.

Directed by a Frenchman no less, "The Messenger" starts off well enough. In truth, director Luc Besson and his now-estranged real-life wife, Milla Jovovich in the lead role, come close to capturing the tomboyish zeal of the young fanatic. Besson, whose flair for creating cinematic visuals is often unparalleled, does make "The Messenger" a stylish spectacle. But he can't seem to keep from going overboard.

Just when Besson has us intrigued in the young Joan — wham! He gives us a scene where Joan witnesses the slaughter of her sister by a British soldier who is so far gone that he continues to violate the girl's corpse. Starting with this horrendous scene, Jovovich (whose acting charms must be an acquired taste) begins to play every scene the same — with mouth open and eyes eerily unblinking. This never-changing expression lends credence to Besson and screenwriter Adam Birkin's premise that Joan was some sort of confused, immature fanatic.

Tossed into this confusing spectacle are Faye Dunaway and Dustin Hoffman. She's a stiff courtesan who seems to have gotten the role on the strength of her high, imposing forehead alone. Equally stiff is Hoffman as "conscience" personified. Cloaked in rough-hewn black robes, he appears in Joan's cell every night while she's imprisoned and tried for heresy.

It is Joan's trial that consumes the second part of the film, and though it goes on way too long, there's a reason: John Malkovich. As the Dauphin Charles, Malkovich is in top form. His is the only characterization that works in this messianic mess. No wonder Besson is loath to move his camera to Joan's historically accurate date at the stake.

Relentlessly grim with battle scenes to rival "Braveheart," "The Messenger" is an ungodly mess. In fairness, I must tell you that when it comes to Jeanne D'arc, I like my avenging soldier-waif draped in traditional, larger-than-life tragic hero trappings. So perhaps I am prejudiced. Although Besson does let his Joan show her unswerving stuff on the battlefield, when the bloodshed's over, Jovovich is back looking like she just finished another round of electroshock therapy.

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