"Third Person" proves the age-old maxim that you can't solve screenplay problems by cramming your movie full of A-listers.

The new picture from writer-director Paul Haggis, who won two Oscars for "Crash," lands with a resounding thud because his inscrutable script is filled with superfluous complications and groan-worthy dramatics that would be considered too over-the-top for a soap opera.

Individual moments are so detached from reality that they're hard to watch and the movie as a whole plays as if the filmmaker had a collection of ideas he wanted to get on paper without anything resembling a form with which to do so.

This romantic drama, with story lines set in New York, Paris and Rome that are locked in a frenzied game of one-upmanship when it comes to their insipidness, stars Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde, James Franco, Mila Kunis, Adrien Brody, Maria Bello, Kim Basinger and others. It has been stunt-cast to the point of oblivion. But it wouldn't be any better with Marlon Brando, Meryl Streep, Daniel Day-Lewis and Ingrid Bergman.

One story line finds Neeson and Wilde sleeping together in Paris and engaged in a lot of boring flirtation. A second stars Franco and Kunis as divorced New York parents: he's a successful artist and she's a hotel housekeeper. The third centers on Brody's fascination with Roma beauty Monika (Morian Atias).

They connect, sort of, but there's no point in seriously engaging with any of them. The movie is ultimately defined by a series of eye-openingly bad scenes -- Franco dragging a screaming Kunis across a floor in slow motion, for example -- plot developments that make no sense, human behavior that defies all logic and a needlessly complicated narrative approach that turns the film into a mystery of sorts, obfuscating anything Haggis was trying to say about love and creativity.

At 137 minutes, the film is more than a simple flop. It is excruciating, obliterating you with overwrought platitudes and phony sincerity to the point where it starts to feel like a prison sentence. One has to assume "Third Person" is an aberration for its talented maker and that now that he's gotten whatever this was out of his system he can go back to making movies that make sense.

 

Directed by Paul Haggis
Starring Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde, James Franco, Mila Kunis, Adrien Brody
Rated R