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Review by Jay Rittenberg

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Directed by: Michael Hoffman
Starring: Stanley Tucci, Anna Friel, Dominic West, Sophie Marceau, David Strathairn, Christian Bale, Rupert Everett, Calista Flockhart, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Kevin Kline

Moviegoers just can't seem to get enough of William Shakespeare, especially after the critical and box office success of the brilliant Shakespeare in Love. The first to hop on the commercial bandwagon after Miramax's glorious triumph was Twentieth Century Fox, who decided to give us yet another big screen rendition of A Midsummer Night's Dream. I'm so glad, however, that the suits over at Fox decided to give writer/director/producer Michael Hoffman the breathing room to fulfill his big screen vision of one of the playwright's most popular works. The outcome? Members of the first-rate cast all turned in wonderful performances resulting in a delightful finished product.

With all the hoopla surrounding the famous author still in the air, Twentieth Century Fox was wise to give Hoffman a shot at making another version of A Midsummer Night's Dream. He was very respectful to the author when it came to the dialogue used, but he made one notable change: instead of the 1600s, he switched gears and fast forwarded the story to Tuscany in the late 1800s. This was a fresh and welcome change of pace because the director got to introduce a new and ultra-popular device during that time: the bicycle.

Even though the "when" and "where" has changed, the essence of the story has remained the same: two star-crossed lovers, Hermia (Anna Friel) and Lysander (Dominic West), are not allowed to pursue their love for one another. Since Hermia's father Egeus (Bernard Hill) has already arranged for her to marry Demetrius (Christian Bale), he's not about to be showed up. Determined to have things turn out in his favor, he brings his argument to Duke Theseus (David Strathairn). The Duke, who is busy preparing for his own nuptials to the stunning but indecisive Hippolyta (Sophie Marceau), agrees to hear the case and rules in favor of the patriarch.

Hurt and ticked off, the lovers decide to boogie out of town and get hitched Vegas style. Of course, since stubborn Demetrius' manhood has been challenged, he doesn't dare let her go without a fight. What makes things even more interesting is that in the act of pursuing, Demetrius himself is being hunted by the even more persistent Helena (Calista Flockhart, who nails the role), who's like a pesky mosquito at a cookout during a 90-degree summer day.

In the midst of pursuing and being pursued, these four youngsters find themselves in the forest where Oberon (Rupert Everett), King of the Fairies, is having a difference of opinion with Queen Titania (the always stunning Michelle Pfeiffer). In order to try to patch things up, the dashing Oberon summons his sweet sidekick Puck (Stanley Tucci) to concoct a love spell from a magical flower. The king not only asks his right hand to help him out with his old lady, but also with the four troublesome youngsters, whom he believes should each be with their intended soul mate. As you can well imagine, things don't go as smoothly as planned. Puck does his best, but these hormonally charged youngsters keep falling for the wrong person.

The poor king! Not only did he and his partner-in-crime royally mess things up with the lovers, but things (if you can believe it) actually get worse! Instead of setting her eyes on Oberon, the first person that the queen sees when she wakes up is Nick Bottom (Kevin Kline), an actor who has come to the forest, along with his village posse, to rehearse a play that is scheduled to be performed before Duke Theseus. The potion that the two had concocted is so powerful that Titania falls for the thespian despite the fact that they have (out of spite) turned him into an ass - literally.

Hoffman's rendition of misdirected love works because the superstar cast lives up to its billing. Not only that, but the director should be given some credit for a fine piece of casting. Pfeiffer is luminous while Rupert, once again, flashes those dashing traits that he displayed to such effect in My Best Friend's Wedding. Stanley Tucci, as Puck, is both funny and touching while Friel, Bale, and West all do a nice job with their "Dating Game" roles. Flockhart must also be given bonus points for bringing some of her "Ally McBeal" charm to her role.

Although everyone, as a whole, made the film work, there was actually one standout. As usually is the case with an ensemble picture, Kevin Kline was the culprit. He's just as hilarious as the object of the queen's affection, as he was the backbone of his pals' production. His comedic timing, once again, sets him apart from the rest of the cast.

What's also nice is that Hoffman did not have to rely on eye-popping special effects or lavish production designs to get his message across. He didn't have to! The fine acting is what counted here and the adequate sets and effects were of lesser consequence. The film was the cinematic antonym of "What Dreams May Come," where the spectacular effects and gorgeous sets overpowered two Oscar winners and the story itself resulting in a mixed bag at best with many critics and fans alike.

Hoffman's ensemble cast and changes make his take on the famous play both user friendly and a treat for anyone willing to give up two hours of their time. This is one Shakespearean film that you'll have little trouble understanding and even less enjoying.

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