Paul Bettany, Willem Dafoe, Brian Cox ... what are they doing in this thing? Having a good time dressing like waiters at Medieval Times and not taking any of it too seriously, one hopes. Bettany's a disgraced 1300s priest on the run from his flock after a fleshy indiscretion (and a "mysterious" ancillary crime you'll guess straight away). The rueful rev hooks up with a touring drama group, and together they turn a middling trade in Gospel-based theatricals -- until they visit a village still reeling from a shocking murder, and hit upon the idea of making the crime the subject of their next al fresco performance piece.
Strangely, this tasteless move does not get them flogged silly, but it does inspire plenty of impassioned kibitzing from the citizenry over what really happened. The story that ensues is basically a period CSI, with the engaged drama troupe sifting through forensic evidence and eyewitness testimony in hopes of solving the crime, rather than just exploiting it.
On the plus side, the movie looks just great, reeking with carefully applied filth that makes us deeply grateful to be living in the 21st century. As a negative, the flick seems constitutionally able to keep its pretty mouth shut, weighing down its effective visual setups with interminable philosophical debates. Dafoe's group leader has a hilariously overreaching speech in which he announces their transition to reality-based drama; one day, he fearlessly predicts, every play will be drawn from life instead of scripture. All that's missing is the voice of Don Pardo instructing us to tune in for next week's episode of Theodoric of York, Medieval Thespian.
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