RATING |

It figures that Julie Taymor, theater magician of The Lion King, film conjurer of Across the Universe, Shakespeare interpreter who made her movie debut with Titus, would be drawn to The Tempest, the one about the sorcerer who unsettles the seas before settling scores.

Boldly Taymor changes Prospero's gender, casting the magnificent Helen Mirren as Prospera, cast away with her daughter, Miranda, on a remote island where the sorceress rescues the sprite Ariel and enslaves the creature Caliban.

But there is little else magical about Taymor's flatfooted rendition of Shakespeare's late-career play. Neither is the allusive story with its themes of parent and child, master and slave, and sibling and sibling plumbed for contemporary resonance in the way Taymor used the ultraviolent Titus as an occasion for a meditation on violence.

Mirren commands the screen and her minions (Ben Whishaw as spectral Ariel, Djimon Hounsou as the solid Caliban). That's the best that can be said of this Tempest that is both compressed and sluggish.

In the multicharacter story constructed as four parallel narratives that ultimately converge, only the thread with Prospera and Miranda has any dramatic urgency.

This is disappointing, with supporting players who include the boisterous Alfred Molina and Russell Brand.

Given Taymor's eye for visual poetry, even more disappointing is that although The Tempest was largely shot on location in Hawaii, its compositions are picturesque without adding anything to the story. With the exception of a scene of Prospera erupting in rage on a lava bed, so underutilized are the settings that it might well have been filmed entirely in a studio.

The costumes designed by Sandy Powell - leather gowns and military uniforms, Renaissance in silhouette and detailed with zippers - are the film's most arresting element.

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Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or crickey@phillynews.com. Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/flickgrrl/