• by Wes Singleton

Tulip Fever, C-

Rated R, 107 minutes

The handsome but dull period romance "Tulip Fever" falters under a load of absurd plot turns, though admittedly its sex scenes are hot. The long-delayed film manages to waste a lovely, talented all-star cast and impressive production credentials.

Set against the backdrop of the 17th-century Tulip Wars, a married noblewoman (Oscar-winner Alicia Vikander) has an affair with an artist (Dane DeHaan, not having a great year with movies) and switches identities with her maid to escape the wealthy merchant (Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz) she married. She and her lover try to raise money together by investing what little they have in the high-stakes tulip market.

"Tulip Fever" is directed by Justin Chadwick ("Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom") and written by acclaimed playwright Tom Stoppard ("The Real Thing"), based on the novel of the same name by Deborah Moggach. You'd think that with an esteemed pedigree like that, not to mention the presence of three Oscar-winners (Waltz, Vikander and in a tiny part, Judi Dench), that it'd be much better than it is. It was striving for a soapy sheen of "Downton Abbey" but comes across as a smuttier (if that is even possible) "Knots Landing" with tulips.

The muddled, uneven plotting doesn't help, with multiple, unnecessary plot lines going all over the place, telling the backstory of each in plodding details. Almost all of the lead and supporting players are having steamy sex, and while that's fun to watch, it doesn't advance the thin plot of the flowers, which seems an afterthought. "Fever" has a few fun twists and turns here and there, but all in all, there's simply too much going on.

What "Tulip Fever" has really going for it is the handsome photography from "House of Cards" Eigil Bryld, as well as the stellar, detailed production design and costume design of Simon Elliott, and Michael O'Connor, respectively, even if those huge, flowery collars seem a little overpowering at times. Holliday Grainger, Matthew Morrison, Cara Delevingne, Jack O'Connell and even the likes of Zach Galifinakis (wasted here in a small part) round out the all-star cast.

"Tulip Fever" has an intriguing backdrop in history, when a premium was paid for tulip due to supply and demand issues. Reminds me of an episode of the classic comedy "I Love Lucy," called "Lucy Raises Tulips." Wacky Lucy accidentally runs over a neighbor's prized tulips on a runaway lawn mower just in time for an annual gardening contest. She replaces them with plastic ones, only to find they wilt in the heat, However, little does she know her equally wacky husband Ricky ran her tulips over in the same lawn mower and also replaced hers, only to wilt in the heat.

That "Lucy" episode is much more exciting than the unsatisfying, tedious "Tulip Fever," which wilts and remains limp, in spite of some steamy love scenes.

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