Based on the acclaimed book by Louis de Bernières Captain Corelli's Mandolin follows the World War II-era affair between a beautiful inhabitant of the Greek island of Cephallonia Pelagia (Penélope Cruz) and the leader of the Italian troops occupying it Corelli (Nicolas Cage). The daughter of the town doctor (John Hut) Pelagia is engaged to a fisherman Mandras (Christian Bale) who leaves to fight the Axis powers in the war. The fun-loving mandolin-playing charmer Corelli who is put up at the doctor's house during the occupation would rather "Eat-a sing-a and-a make-a loooove" than be bothered by combat. A serious and patriotic Pelagia regards him with all the disdain she can muster ("Is everything a joke to you?" she demands) until of course Corelli strums his way straight into her heart.
Never mind the fact that her character's name sounds more like a word for pond vegetation than a beautiful Greek woman. The sweetly charming Cruz portrays deep emotion and personal conviction in her big brown eyes and her loveliness which nicely enhances the picturesque scenery makes her dodgy accent (Spanish? Greek? Neither?) palatable. Not so the case with galumphy doe-eyed Cage (née Coppola) who bellows his lines in a vague pseudo-Italian drawl that brings Chico Marx to mind (at least Chico was funny). His cringe-inducing singing and awkward instrumentals are laughable-- for my money I'd rather watch him pluck a chicken than pluck mandolin strings. Capable and comely Cruz in love with this guy? Not on your life. And Christian Bale as Mandras the Greek? Hello he's an Englishman! Oscar prediction: Hurt who expounds wise aphorisms as the warmly loving Iannis could just pull off a nomination next year.
It would be pretty darn difficult to make a Greek island look bad so director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) has half his job done for him right there. Bernières' lengthy novel had to be whittled down into a cohesive script which is one of the film's biggest problems. During its first half you (and apparently the characters as well) forget there's a war happening what with all the singing dancing and loooovemaking going on. In fact the romance overwhelms all other aspects of the story like the incidental war which it doesn't delve deeply enough into. There's really not enough time to explore WWII's harsh realities so the film merely skims that surface like a sailboat skimming the blue Aegean.