Reel Critics: 'Water For Elephants' too dry

"Water for Elephants" is a Depression-era melodrama whose star has never looked more gorgeous. And that's just Robert Pattinson.

Pattinson plays Jacob, a down on his luck veterinary student who joins a second-rate circus in a twist of fate. Its handsome owner and ringleader August (Christoph Waltz) is married to comely young bareback rider Marlena (Reese Witherspoon). What are the odds these two kids will fall for each other and cause trouble?

The circus performances are beautifully filmed and will appeal to children of all ages. It's not so kid-friendly behind the scenes: the brutality and violence, especially to animals, is disturbing.

"Elephants" wouldn't be half as entertaining if not for Waltz' smiling menace. It's a variation on his Oscar-winning role in "Inglorious Basterds," and he does it so well. Veteran actor Hal Holbrook, as old Jacob, seems to be there only to ensure a high schmaltz quotient.

Witherspoon looks enchanting under the big top, but there's no magic between her and Pattinson, whose spray-tanned baby face remains placid throughout.

Poor Rosie the elephant has more charm and personality than these two big stars, and I'll bet she works for peanuts.


'Rio' a raucous adventure

The makers of the "Ice Age" films take their animation skills to the tropics in the rollicking movie "Rio." The story centers on two rare birds living thousands of miles apart. But they are destined to meet in a series of wild adventures that will entertain young and old alike.

A young lady in Minnesota owns a rare blue macaw. She is persuaded by a scientist to bring him to Brazil to mate with a female of the species. Their arrival in Rio de Janeiro coincides with the riotous activities of Carnival. Everything vibrates with explosions of bright colors at every turn.

Amid the festivities, the valuable birds are kidnapped by evil animal traders. The roller-coaster chase to rescue them is the heart of the story. Jesse Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway voice the birds, who grow closer as their perilous journey unfolds. Several gregarious city birds form a cadre of amusing sidekicks. They dance their way across the screen in opulent Busby Berkeley style.

Wholesome life lessons are on display as the birds develop loyalty, courage and perseverance to overcome their troubles. It's a great example of G-rated fun for the whole family.

SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a financial services company.

JOHN DEPKO is a retired senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office. He lives in Costa Mesa and works as a licensed private investigator.

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