The Alamo clearly has the same aspiration as Titanic, which is to put a face on a tragedy that grade-school children learn about over two pages of their history textbooks.
Say what you want about James Cameron’s wince-worthy dialogue, but at least he remembered to create characters and give his special effects a tragic impressiveness.
The Alamo is another case of epic bloat, making those hazy-focused History Channel specials look like masterpieces. It has horrific acting from its four leads, battles edited at the level of a bad TV miniseries and no real sense at all of why anyone’s fighting for Texas. It’s a torturous cycle of standing, pouting, bickering and looking at the Mexican army.
Even not knowing the film was cut from an original 3-hour length, it’s obvious something’s missing. William Barret Travis (Patrick Wilson), the inexperienced colonel in command of the ill-fated fort, implores his low-morale brethren to fight for “what Texas means to them.”
If only we knew what that is. Like those cable documentaries, there are letters to loved ones, but nearly everyone in the Alamo is a nameless face. And in the cheap-looking cannon-fire explosions, they are sent sprawling as ridiculously as the wet-behind-the-ears ensigns when Star Trek’s Enterprise takes a hit.
With a dead story, director John Lee Hancock (The Rookie) can’t jumpstart the film with the action scenes either, ripping off Pearl Harbor with a point-of-view shot of a cannonball. For all the talk of fortification and strategy, the film is all random explosions and sloppy transitions.
The hollow stories The Alamo provides are not much of a surprise, as the credits reveal a written-by-committee script.
As Jim Bowie, Jason Patric flips his knife around a few times (Get it? Bowie knife!) before tuberculosis confines him to a deathbed. The film shakes Bowie’s death rattle far too long, and Patric’s performance is a poor variation of Val Kilmer’s fine work as Doc Holliday in Tombstone.
Billy Bob Thornton’s Davy Crockett is the live wire of the story, his smart-aleck drawl good for a couple well-needed wisecracks. But his squint-and-sneer facial expression goes on annoying autopilot early, and his “taters” speech is a head-shaker of the highest order.
Wilson plays Travis more as a confused pinhead than a reluctant leader. He’s apparently a louse who cheated on his wife, but looks like a kid prone to wedgies from men in the militia. At least his death is quick and without fanfare, as it likely would have been.
What The Alamo conveys nicely is how Texas was a political hot potato tossed around until the Alamo tragedy forced people to hold it. But even that’s diminished by Dennis Quaid’s awful performance as Sam Houston. His exaggerated scowl, wide-eyed craziness and over-the-top cries of revenge are so unlike him as an actor, and it’s easily his worst performance.
The Alamo lazily relies upon the emotions the viewer brings to the table. Unless your bumper boasts a “Don’t mess with Texas” sticker, The Alamo remains as irritatingly flat as the pages that taught its story to us.