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‘Diana’: A fractured fairy tale full of laughable dialogue

‘DIANA’ ★★

Diana, Princess of Wales Naomi Watts

Hasnat Khan Naveen Andrews

Entertainment One presents a film directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel and written by Stephen Jeffreys, inspired by the book “Diana: Her Last Love,” by Kate Snell. Running time: 112 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for brief strong language, some sensuality and smoking). Opens Friday at AMC River East 21.

For co-star Naveen Andrews, 'Diana' just 'a simple love story'

Updated: October 31, 2013 10:55PM

The 2004 film “Downfall” is the “Citizen Kane” of mash-up material, with a famous scene of Bruno Ganz’ Hitler going bonkers serving as the inspiration for literally hundreds of hilarious videos.

Nearly a decade later, “Downfall” director Oliver Hirschbiegel helms “Diana,” and if it hasn’t happened already, we are almost certain to get a mash-up video in which Hitler throws a hissy fit while reviewing this sappy, sometimes comically tone-deaf speculative look at the last two years in the life of the people’s princess.

Naomi Watts is a treasure of an actress and she tries gamely here, prosthetic nose and all, but Watts is nearly a decade older than Diana was at the time of her death in 1997, and she neither looks nor sounds much like the woman who was more famous than anyone else on Earth at the time of her tragic death in that tunnel in Paris.

Not that Watts is the primary problem with “Diana.” There’s not an actress in the world who could have elevated an overwrought screenplay brimming with some of the most awkward patches of dialogue heard in any movie of 2013.

Just a few of my favorite howlers:

» Shortly after meeting the hunky, Pakistani heart surgeon Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews from “Lost,” who never looked this lost in “Lost”), Diana purrs, “So hearts can’t actually be broken?”

» Waxing poetic, Haznat says he doesn’t get tired even after eight hours of surgery because, “You don’t perform the operation, the operation performs you.” (If that’s the case, what’s with the co-pay?)

» “I think I have a right to be confused when up against a gorgeous creature like you,” says Diana, who later admits to being “a mad bitch and a stalker,” but hey, “I was provoked.”

“Diana” begins with the princess, Dodi Fayed and two bodyguards making their way to the elevator at the Ritz-Carlton in Paris on the night of the fatal crash. We then flash back two years earlier to 1995, when Diana was already separated from Prince Charles for three years and finally was ready to share her side of things with the media and maybe even start making a life for herself, even as she continued living at Kensington Palace and was at the complete mercy of the royal family regarding visitation with her young sons Harry and Wills.

Hirschbiegel and crew do an admirable job of capturing the claustrophobic madness of Diana’s life, with the paparazzi and the tabloids tracking her every move, and the faces of everyone she encounters lighting up like children every time she entered a hospital or appeared at a charity event. The mid-1990s were pre-Twitter and pre-TMZ and pre-so much more, yet it could be argued not even the most famous of today’s celebrities lived in a fishbowl as bright as the one Diana occupied at the time.

So why would a brilliant surgeon known even to his family for guarding his privacy willingly enter into a torrid romance with the most famous woman in the world? “Diana” never really addresses that, instead giving us ludicrous scenes in which Di dons a dark wig and is unrecognized by one and all; Di shows up at the doc’s apartment to groove to some jazz and make out; Di and the doc go for a joyride in the country.

(In a borderline offensive sequence, Di goes it alone to visit the doc’s very traditional Pakistani family. The children run to her and give her flowers and dance around her, the men delight at her cricket skills — and grandma tells Di she is “a young lioness.” Oh brother.)

We get only glimpses of Diana’s daffy side and the ways in which she manipulated the media to her own gain. Watts is such a grounded actress and seems so self-assured onscreen, we never get a real sense of the fragile, nearly half-mad Diana.

To be fair, as the movie shows, the real Diana did a great deal of charity work, raising millions to combat AIDS and most famously campaigning against the manufacture and use of land mines. But on more than one occasion, when Diana comforts a land mine victim or a grieving mother, the music swells and Diana is shown with such reverence, Jesus himself would tell her to take it down a notch.

With Diana sadly gone and Dr. Khan already on record as saying the movie is a farce as far as he’s concerned, “Diana” stands as a work of romantic fiction about a princess who couldn’t escape her fame and a dashing doctor who loved her but couldn’t figure out a way to make it work while doing the job he loved and satisfying a family that would never accept her.

It’s a fractured fairy tale, penned in clunky strokes.


Twitter: @richardroeper

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