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"The Monuments Men": This Time, Ocean's Boys Take on the Third Reich! 

Wednesday, Feb 5 2014

Rousing history lessons don't come more cartoonish than The Monuments Men, a thoroughly stilted, atonal and all-around one-dimensional Ocean's Eleven-style saga about the experts who joined the army during WWII to save the world's art classics from the Nazis. Lurching awkwardly between flat comedy and over-the-top bathos, all of it delivered with a self-satisfaction that's also found in its leading man's cocky grin, writer/director/star George Clooney's film finds professor Frank Stokes (Clooney) rescuing Rembrandts, Cézannes, the Ghent Altarpiece, and the Madonna of Bruges, among countless other priceless works, from SS villains. He does this with the aid of a ragtag team comprised of Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville, Bob Balaban and Matt Damon — an illustrious cast whose characters possess not a single defining personality trait, save for their unimpeachable nobility and unwavering wittiness under fire. These ciphers embark on an adventure whose dim I-stepped-on-a-mine gags neuter its horrors-of-war solemnity, and vice versa. Despite repeatedly identifying the action's time period and location, The Monuments Men routinely forgets to elucidate what its featureless characters are specifically doing, while it has Clooney's preternaturally poised hero incessantly expound upon art's — and the mission's — vital Importance. Equal parts superficially and structurally sloppy, it's a cheap knock-off of a genuinely inspiring real-life tale.

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Nick Schager


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