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'Evita' Tailor-made for Madonna

January 4, 1996
Web posted at: 1:20 a.m. EST

From Movie Reviewer Carol Buckland

(CNN) -- There's something inevitable about the casting of Madonna in the title role of the film version of "Evita." Like Madonna, Eva Duarte was a brunette-turned-blonde material girl who knew how to make the most of her less-than-stellar talents. She "socialized" her way from backwater bastard to First Lady of Argentina. And when she died of cancer at 33, she left her fans weeping for more of her calculating brand of star power. (movie trailer - 9.3M/110 sec. QuickTime movie) movie icon

"Evita" is basically a music video with epic pretensions. This is not to say it isn't gorgeous to look at or occasionally extremely entertaining. It's both of those things. But for all the movie's grand style, it falls short in terms of substance and soul. (1.4M/39 sec. QuickTime movie movie icon)

Madonna does a solid -- if less than emotionally gripping -- job in the title role. She's in good voice (for a pop singer) and projects particularly well in a specially-written ballad near the end of the film. What's disappointing is how opaque her Evita is. She's more mannequin than flesh-and-blood woman.

Although he's stuck wearing what looks like a patent leather toupee, Jonathan Pryce (the Infiniti ad guy and veteran stage actor) contributes a sly, understated performance as Juan Peron. He talk-sings his lyrics with a subtle touch of wit and does a lot with his many silent reaction shots.

The scene-stealer in this production (and I admit to a hormonal prejudice here) is Antonio Banderas. He's cast as Che, a commentator/narrator who's supposed to point out the rot beneath Evita's razzle-dazzle. In the stage play, Che was tricked out like the revolutionary Che Guevara. On screen, he turns up in a variety of costumes -- a cinematic Everyman who seems to be seduced by Eva even as he scorns her actions.

Banderas is terrific. His singing is passionate, his presence potent. He may not have the greatest voice nor the widest acting range in the world, but this guy is hot.

Visually, this movie is a knockout. Director Alan Parker knows how to offer a feast for the eyes. What's lacking is the appeal to the heart he demonstrated in films such as "The Commitments."

All in all, "Evita" is worth your time and money. To paraphrase Che's lyrical assessment of the title character, it has some moments and it has some style. It's not the best cinematic show in town, but you could do a heck of a lot worse!

"Evita" runs 2 hours and five minutes. It's rated PG. There is some violence -- soldiers beating up peasants, a couple of bombings -- and a fair amount of sexual innuendo. The pre-teen set (even Madonna wannabees) are likely to be bored by the film's length and subject matter.

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