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'To the Wonder' more a beautiful blunder

| Thursday, April 18, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

Never was a film so visually stunning and so intolerable as “To the Wonder.”

Director Terrence Malick presents great beauty, but that doesn't save this pretentious, incoherent mess from insufferable tedium. Straining to be poetic and profound, “Wonder” emerges protracted and vapid, like a parody of an art film.

Case in point: dialogue such as “What is this love that loves us,” uttered in a whispery French voice-over narration by Olga Kurylenko. She plays Marina, and she's musing about her romance with Neil (Ben Affleck).

Marina is a Ukrainian divorcée living in Paris with a 10-year-old daughter. Neil is an American who meets Marina while traveling in Europe.

Neil asks Marina and daughter Tatiana (Tatiana Chiline) to move with him to Oklahoma. Once there, he is morose for no discernible reason. But the free-spirited Marina makes the best of it by twirling and spinning and jumping on beds.

There's only so much anyone can take of someone endlessly romping and half-dancing through fields. By the same token, watching Affleck plod around wordlessly is hardly riveting. And, for some reason, his face is rarely on camera. Mostly, we see his back. His part could easily have been played by an extra.

This is Malick's follow-up to the brilliant “The Tree of Life” from 2011, which resonated as a dreamy meditation on memory and the origins of existence.

Despite its title, wonder is in short supply. Malick squanders cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki's gorgeous visuals by not allowing them to be in service of a compelling story.

In an early scene, Marina and Neil, in the first blush of love, are mesmerized by the feel of their bare feet sinking into sticky wet sand. It's an apt metaphor for a film that slogs around without purpose, mired by its own fascination with itself.

Claudia Puig reviews movies for USA Today.

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