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Movies: Gnomeo & Juliet *

Listen to this for a pitch: you know that Shakespeare thing, Romeo and Juliet -- well, what if we set it in a back garden and Romeo and Juliet and all the Montagues and Capulets were garden gnomes who fought their battles with lawn movers and garden shears. Wouldn't that be great? Somehow, that hare-brained notion became a film.

In any case, here Gnomeo & Juliet is, and what a phenomenal five-car pile-up of a film it is. This movie's Montagues and Capulets are chatty gnomes who live in adjoining gardens and have taken an enmity started by their human owners to ever greater heights. Tybalt Capulet (fittingly voiced by Jason Statham) is the playground bully, and the two clans are endlessly launching attacks on one another. The cardinal rule is to stay out of each other's gardens, but one day Romeo Montague (voiced by James McAvoy, happily without the aid of helium) decides to sneak in and have a look at Capulet territory himself.

There he comes across Juliet (Emily Blunt), a comely gnome with whom he falls instantly in love. The couple's love provokes an unprecedented outbreak of hostilities.

Ghastly as this entire concept is, it might have been made bearable by ingenious animation and a witty script. No such luck, and a bizarre voice cast that includes Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Ozzy Osbourne and Dolly Parton is left to hack their way through a forest of dire jokes and platitudes.

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