Mediocre movies are ten a penny but camp classics don't come around so often. Indeed, if not for the recent efforts of Melanie Griffith (Shining Through, Close to Eden) and husband Don Johnson (Guilty as Sin) devotees of irredeemable celluloid would be on a starvation diet.

So ignore for a moment the vicious reviews meted out to The House of the Spirits, and welcome while you can (its departure is imminent) a film in which everything that can go wrong, does go wrong; clock those costumes, weep at those wigs, moan at the music . . . Not since Gregory Peck played Captain Ahab has the screen seen such imaginative miscasting. Here's 47-year-old Meryl Streep as a teenage clairvoyant, skipping into rooms and making occasional tables levitate. There's Jeremy Irons, the archetypal anodyne Englishman dipped in Perma-Tan, pretending to be a macho Latin. Witness the torture of political activist Winona Ryder in full make-up (when she begs to be allowed to go to the toilet you just know it's because she wants to apply even more mascara). Only the appearance of Glenn Close makes sense: she's obviously present to prove that she and Meryl Streep are not the same person. But with photography this bad, who can tell?

There's not a single sane moment in the entire 138 minutes, which is, of course, what makes the experience de rigueur. No wonder cultural scavengers are already making weekly House calls: the absurdity is addictive.

It took balls and around dollars 30 million to let a cerebral Swedish director like Bille August loose on Isabel Allende's steamy chunk of South American magical realism. Money well spent if not well meant: rush now to avoid disappointment.

(Photograph omitted)

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