There is a scene in The Alamo where a young Mexican woman passes an egg over the consumptive, sweating body of Jim Bowie (played with consumptive, sweating, one-note majesty by Jason Patric) to extract a diagnosis or to purge the disease or something like that. The egg is then broken into a glass filled with some sort of liquid, and the young Mexican girl announces that Jim is already dead, but his body is still hanging on. Passing the same egg over this film produces the exact same reading. From the first mush-mouthed ramblings from General Sam Houston (played by Dennis Quaid with a bizarre swaggering drowsiness that goes way beyond mere drunkenness) to the last lame thing spoken by David (don’t call him Davy) Crockett (an entirely miscast Billy Bob Thorton), this movie is just dying for someone to put a bayonet in its eye and leave it for the vultures.
The film — which had an opportunity not only to update the 1960 version with John Wayne and Richard Widmark and purge the story of the myths and misconceptions surrounding the 1836 battle between Mexican forces and those of the Tejanos and Texans trying to wrest it from them — instead chose a path of faux-macho speechifying and clownish symbolism so inane it’s embarrassing. Instead of breaking the historical record down and giving us a little “meat” along with all the posing and fiddle-playing, director John Lee Hancock sweeps his camera over the dusty streets of San Antonio so many times you’d think he was auditioning traffic-copter reporters. Sunsets are big too. Lots of sunsets and soldiers silhouetted against the sky. Are you falling asleep yet?
Nobody in this film resembles a real human being. There are scenes laden with such ferocious phoniness that I was expecting the assembled actors to start breaking up with laughter. Amazing thing, that Alamo battle. According to this movie, it not only brought about the eventual creation of the Republic of Texas, and later statehood, but it was also an opportunity for every soldier fighting, every leader leading, to self-actualize and make the proper amends with every single creature on Earth. All except for the dastardly General Santa Anna (Emilio Echevarria), whose egomaniacal displays of sadism and cruelty are the only scenes that ring with any authenticity. It’s a bad movie when you’re so underwhelmed with the good guys that you’re craving to see what fresh fun a snarling bastard has in store for them.
With all that the filmmakers had to work with — rebellions in Texas and Mexico and nations in their infancy battling it out politically as well as militarily — you’d think they could have crafted something slightly more engaging than this slobbering chunk of puffery.
Dan DeMaggio writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.