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Mediocrity, with mermaid – ‘The King’s Daughter’

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It is a longstanding tradition in the film distribution world that January serves as a bit of a dumping ground for those movies that, for whatever reason, haven’t lived up to expectations. They’re finished products in which no one really has much faith.

There’s a reason they call it Dumpuary.

Of course, given the current ever-shifting circumstances of the pandemic, the box office situation is all the more tenuous. Throw in the carryover of recent hits and the expanded release of award contenders and you’ve got a landscape where new theatrical offerings are of … questionable quality.

Offerings like “The King’s Daughter.”

This staggering oddball comes to us courtesy of journeyman director Sean McNamara; the script was written by Barry Berman and James Schmaus, adapted from Vonda N. McIntyre’s 1997 novel “The Moon and the Sun.” It is ostensibly a fantasy adventure, though there’s fairly little adventure and the true fantasy is imagining a world in which you didn’t go see this movie.

There’s a jarring unevenness to this movie, with shots of real-life locations awkwardly juxtaposed with badly-rendered backdrops and iffy CGI. There are some good performers here, but there’s a weird vibe – it’s as though everyone involved could tell that they were participating in a disaster-in-the-making.

Seriously – this thing finished filming back in 2014 and is only just now seeing release. That tells you everything you need to know about how the people involved felt about it.

So we’re in 17th century France. King Louis XVI (Pierce Brosnan) has had a long and largely successful reign. But he wants more. Specifically, he would like to be immortal, thank you very much, and he’s willing to entertain whatever crackpot nonsense gets him there, much to the chagrin of his friend and closest adviser Pere La Chase (William Hurt).

Court physician Dr. Labarthe (Pablo Schreiber) has some nonsense that is just what the doctor ordered, some old books that claim that the heart of a mermaid can grant immortality if the sacrifice is conducted during an eclipse, something that is conveniently due to happen soon. And so, the King sends an expedition led by Captain Yves (Benjamin Walker) to capture a mermaid and bring it back.

Oh, and by the way, the King also has an illegitimate daughter named Marie-Josephe (Kaya Scodelario) who has been living at a convent since infancy and happens to be a musical prodigy. For reasons that are never made clear, the King decides that it’s time to bring Marie-Josephe to court (though it is NOT time to tell her who her father is, for similarly unclear reasons), though she struggles to fit in.

From there, well … it gets a little wonky. Marie-Josephe hears the mermaid singing and discovers the place where she’s being held captive. The King wants her to marry for money, but she wants to find love. Labarthe turns out to be a psychopath as well as a crackpot. Captain Yves turns out to be a good dude, despite being haunted by the past. And the mermaid is definitely magic.

Sigh.

“The King’s Daughter” accomplishes a relatively rare and remarkable feat – it manages to feel interminable despite having a runtime of just 90 minutes. There are long, dull stretches of nothing happening interspersed with moments of action that don’t really make any kind of sense. There’s nothing really engaging or even interesting about what’s happening on the screen.

Look, I recognize that making a movie – any movie – is an accomplishment. However, when someone spends $40 million to make … whatever this is … it’s a bit tougher to find the bright side. It isn’t particularly charming, the romantic subplot offers zero chemistry, the brief moments of action are almost laughable in their ineffectiveness and everyone on screen seems to be actively regretting the decisions that led them to this place.

(Not that you can really tell where that $40 million went – there are some exterior location shots, but every actual scene feels like it was filmed on a second-rate soundstage. And the CGI – especially the mermaid – is … not good. And just wait until you get to the end of the movie – assuming you DO get to the end. It’s quite something.)

If you squint, you can maybe almost see the passable bit of film entertainment that “The King’s Daughter” could have been. When you strip it down to its basic elements, you can conceive of a world where those elements are reassembled into a mediocre but watchable movie. However, in this world, it’s as though every possible mistake was made.

The cast is not without talent. Pierce Brosnan can be fun, although I feel like the ridiculous brunette Fabio wig he’s wearing here has somehow sucked out his will to live. Every line reading from William Hurt has a subtext of “going to fire my agent.” Scodelario has had some success in genre fare in the past, but she’s not up to carrying the weight of this disaster. Schreiber and Walker are both at the mercy of the single note they’ve been allowed to play; neither is particularly successful, although Schreiber at least seems to be trying something.

(Oh, and I would be remiss if I neglected to tell you that, despite the fact that we’re in 17th century France, there’s not a single French accent in the entire movie. Just so you know what we’re dealing with here.)

“The King’s Daughter” is a prime example of Dumpuary fare, a bad movie that someone finally just threw up their hands and released because there was nothing else to be done with it. It isn’t fun or exciting or the least bit interesting. It simply is. I regret the 90 minutes I gave to this film and I hope that you don’t repeat my mistake.

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Last modified on Monday, 24 January 2022 11:22

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