The road to hell is paved with good imaginations. "Across the Universe" imagines the highlights of the tumultuous Vietnam era neatly restaged to song and dance. It imagines there's only one worthy music, that of The Beatles. Damn the fact that there couldn't be a less interesting choice. The Beatles are the best-known group; therefore The Beatles shall represent the revolution. Let it be.
Hence a young man gets inducted to the strains of "I Want You"; campus "radicals" shoot pool and play leapfrog to "With a Little Help From My Friends"; an urban tyke witnesses black and white unrest while singing "Let It Be."
"Across the Universe" was directed by Julie Taymor, who revolutionized Broadway with "The Lion King." She's a natural crowd pleaser, but being literal and obvious has its limits even in the movies.
How obvious? The lead, Jude (Jim Sturgess), is in love with Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood). The two respectively go into art and politics, are shepherded through their angst-filled years by a lounge duo who look like Janis Joplin (Dana Fuchs) and Jimi Hendrix (Martin Luther McCoy), and end up daringly singing like U2 on a rooftop. But hey, Jude, that happened in a music video decades after "Abbey Road," man. No matter, Bono is in the movie, playing a Dr. John-like hippie singing the trippy lyrics of the title song. If someone reading this owns a paisley kitchen sink, I'm sure Taymor would be happy to include it in the bonus features of the DVD.
The problem, obvious to everyone but Taymor, is that The Beatles and their era need no such treatment. The band was an organic outgrowth of the times. Its songs inspired, and were inspired by, its very own generation. Redundancy is the movie's very premise, its greatest crime. But it isn't the only one.
Taymor would have us think that the lesson of the '60s was that all we need is love. You know, just like the song from the time and in the movie. She forgets people who lived through those times usually follow that line with "and a bulletproof vest." "Imagine," John Lennon entreated. If he were alive today to bear witness to the rosy-cheeked "Across the Universe," he might be moved to make an exception. (PG-13) 131 min. S