Movie review: Joss Whedon's 'Much Ado' is a charming romp



Amy Acker, below right, as Beatrice, eavesdrops on her cousin Hero (Jillian Morgese) and Margaret (Ashley Johnson), who set a romantic trap for her in “Much Ado About Nothing.”



    Rated: PG-13 for some sexuality and brief drug use. Starring: Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Fran Kranz. Director: Joss Whedon. Running time: 107 minutes. Theater: Flicks

So, as news reports have told it, writer-director Joss Whedon had a break planned last year after he finished shooting "Marvel's The Avengers" - then decided the best way to use that break was to gather a group of acting friends and shoot a version of Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing" at his sprawling home. And to not only edit down the plan for the movie, and direct it, but also to write the music for it. And do all that in 12 days.

And it turns out, do it pretty well.

"Much Ado" is a largely entertaining modern-dress take on the Shakespeare comedy, with Amy Acker absolutely wonderful. With Shakespeare's dialogue retained, and the film in black-and-white, some moviegoers will need to make a few mental adjustments. While Whedon has long read Shakespeare, there are points where his trimming of the "Much Ado" text has been too extreme, creating some plot holes that are at best barely patched over. Still, the piece as a whole is a strong combination of comedy and abrupt drama, breezing along to its conclusion.

The film also works around some favorite Whedon topics, about identity and deception, about who we are and what we aim to be. Central to that issue are Beatrice (Acker) and Benedick (Alexis Denisof, "How I Met Your Mother"). Once they were a couple.

But love is in the air, and not just for those two. Various eminences have gathered at the home of Leonato (Clark Gregg), the governor of Messina, Beatrice's uncle and the father of Hero (Jillian Morgese). The warrior Don Pedro (Reed Diamond) has come to visit after defeating his brother, Don John (Sean Maher), who with two associates has come to Leonato's as Pedro's prisoner. Also in the party are Benedick and Claudio (Fran Kranz). And then the trouble starts.

Claudio is smitten by Hero but timid about wooing her. At the same time, Beatrice and Benedick are tossing barbs at each other - until their friends trick Beatrice into believing that Benedick loves her, and con Benedick into believing Beatrice is also in love.

Don John wants to cause chaos among his enemies, and does so with a plot to deceive Claudio about Hero's virtue. The results of that plot spin through the entire group, turning what has to that point seemed like a relatively mild game into something deadly serious.

While "Much Ado" returns finally to more cheerful ground, it leaves the audience full of notions about false fronts and deception, and love.

The acting is also fine for the most part. But it is Acker who shines most - smart, vibrant and beautiful, the kind of woman to whom many men would be helplessly drawn even as she is detailing their inadequacy. In the end, she is someone to make much ado about.

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