Australia, Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman

Twentieth Century Fox

Review in a Hurry: A 12-part miniseries stuffed into a 2½ hour movie, this soap opera tells the story of Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman, pale English rose) and the Drover (Hugh Jackman) as they fall in love against the backdrop of World War II Australia. The beautiful locations and production values can't compensate for all the thin characters and lack of originality. In trying to cover so much ground, the movie ends up too broad to be anything but shallow.

The Bigger Picture: You have to give director Baz Luhrmann credit for trying. The man behind Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge has attempted to tell a story as big and unique as his native land—a throwback to the days of the really big picture, the one that came after the newsreels and cartoons and serials.

But from the start, it feels like he's also trying to cram in everything else he can find. Australia starts with a crawl of solemn text describing the forcible relocation of half-caste Aboriginal children, then a pidgin-English narrative by one of those kids, then a flashback. Then add in native magic, a saloon fight and a cattle drive, racism, a murder mystery and war profiteering. And that's just the first act.

Inevitably, Luhrmann has to jump up and down on this overstuffed suitcase to get it closed. Lots of moments that could have added depth no doubt ended up on the cutting room floor, and as a result, characters are little more than clichés. Jackman doesn't even have a name—just a job description. And the main villain literally hisses his lines to seem more evil. It's a musical without any singing, cardboard cutouts posing in front of a gorgeous, bigger-than-life backdrop.

The 180—a Second Opinion: If you don't stop to think too much about it, the movie offers a highlight reel of great scenery, pretty people and the best moments of a half-dozen other movies.

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