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"Youth Without Youth"



Another movie about ancient mysticism directed by another member of the George Lucas family tree has just been widely released, but it couldn't be more different from "Indiana Jones." For the most part, "Youth Without Youth" -- about an aged linguist and anthropologist (Tim Roth) who mysteriously reverts to his 30s — went straight to DVD, even though it was directed by Francis Ford Coppola, who adapted it from a story by Mircea Eliade.

"Youth Without Youth" arrives after a 10-year hiatus for the filmmaker. The story is set on the eve of World War II, when septuagenarian linguistics professor Dominic Matei (Roth) is struck by a bolt of lightning that causes his body to reverse aging, as if he'd sipped from the fountain of youth. At the same time the event dramatically super-charges his already developed mind. Matei's condition would seem a boon to any person, but the story adds a wrinkle to his fate that makes him as unlovable to other humans as a leper. Unfortunately for the fate of the movie, this is not the last wrinkle.

The film's dismal box office is telling. Most audiences recoil when faced with the prospect of a character whose oddities multiply, disintegrate and reform whenever the story feels like it. They can accept characters who enter the body of a famous person through a doorway behind the trash can, because it is presented from the beginning and is dependable for the rest of the story. Long into this movie, Matei continues to develop various psychic powers, starts to commune with a double of himself, and eventually discovers a girl (Alexandra Maria Lara) who is a physically indistinguishable reincarnation of not only a deceased former love interest, but also several ancient people. That Coppola tries very little to provide a relationship between these disparate elements makes the movie even more of a toughie.

Still, the film is enjoyable if one lets go of the desire to see something conventionally coherent. That may sound like an excuse, or even a veiled insult, but Roth and Lara offer strong performances in extremely interesting roles, and the fact that the parts are vastly more compelling than the whole is not a problem as long as one doesn't get hung up on it. Which really isn't any more unbelievable than a guy befuddling Russians with his lovable sidekick. (R) 124 min.

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