It’s hard to know for sure what “The Words” was shooting for. Is it a mystery? A romance? An artsy message film?
Whatever the target was, however, it’s certain that “The Words” missed it.
Using an unwieldy “story within a story within a story” format, the film focuses primarily on the tale of Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper), a struggling writer with a beautiful and wildly supportive wife (Zoe Saldana).
Unable to get his book published, Rory toils at a menial job until he happens across a dusty, unlabeled manuscript. After much moral wrangling, he claims the book as his own and is quickly hailed as a literary genius.
Lurking on the outskirts of his fame, though, is a mysterious old man who is more than familiar with the manuscript.
The old man’s story of tragedy and romance in post-war France is told by Jeremy Irons, who is more effective than anyone else in the film.
Ben Barnes (“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”) plays the old man as a young man, with Nora Arnezeder as the beautiful French girl he loves.
Wrapped around the stories of Rory and the old man is a third story involving a famous author (Dennis Quaid) reading his manuscript (yes, about Rory and the old man) to an appreciative audience featuring one particularly fawning and fetching fan (Olivia Wilde).
The movie, filmed largely in Montreal (which serves as both Paris and New York), touches on the morality of plagiarism and the consequences of Rory’s decision, but the story is muddled, and it generates a surprising lack of emotion.
The bits with Quaid and Wilde are the worst — creepy more than anything else, with unintentionally comical dialogue.
First-time directors Brian Klugman (Jack’s nephew!) and Lee Sternthal, who also co-wrote the script, seemed to think they were creating high art, but “The Words” is lifeless and unnecessarily complex. Try a good game of Scrabble instead.
Rental Recommendation: Leonardo DiCaprio didn’t have many reservations about passing himself off as something he wasn’t in “Catch Me if You Can.” Grade: B-plus
Email Steve Ouellette at: email@example.com