Harry Kalas dead at 73

Touchstone Pictures' "The Alamo" didn't quite win the battle of the box office this past weekend, debuting in the top five.

The film about the famous battle over the fate of the Texas territory fought to a fourth place finish, bringing in $9.1 million in three days.

The film begins in 1836 with the end of the battle at the Alamo. Then comes a flashback to one year prior, where we're introduced to two of the film's main characters, Davy Crockett (Billy Bob Thornton) and Sam Houston (Dennis Quaid), who are attending a bow-tie affair in Washington, D.C. Crockett, who as a U.S. Congressman, was a huge celebrity back in the day. He is the subject of a play by an actor wearing a coonskin hat called "The Lion of the West." Crockett acknowledges the actor and the crowd from his theater box.

Meanwhile, back in Texas, two other characters vying for the leadership of the Alamo are brought to the forefront, Col. Jim Bowie (Jason Patrick) and Lt. Col. William Travis (Patrick Wilson). They are total polar opposites of each other - Bowie the hard-drinking hellion and Travis as a clean-shaven authority figure.

Soon Crockett arrives in Texas with an ornery band of Tennesseans, ready to defend the Alamo alongside 300 Texans and Tejanos (Mexicans on the American side) against General Antonio López de Santa Anna (Emilio Echevarria) and several thousand Mexican troops.

Most of the film focuses on the loneliness and dread of men waiting for two weeks for what they expect to be certain death, while making both Crockett and Bowie seem larger than life. It becomes knowledge that Crockett was indeed a legend, so much that Santa Anna's men spoke softly of how Crockett could leap rivers in a single bound and wrestle grizzly bears. However, Crockett gleefully smiles and explains to those around him that he didn't do all of those things, and that his reputation has a life of its own.

Finally, and I do mean finally, the battle at the Alamo occurs, as the defenders of the Alamo make their plans and wait for reinforcements that never arrive. Ironically, Santa Anna's troops are able to march right up to the Alamo and begin attacking without any of the watchmen noticing them. There are two scenes involving surrender that make an ironic contrast. Surrounded by fallen comrades, Crockett is offered surrender terms by Santa Anna, to which he defiantly asks for Santa Anna's surrender. This is matched by the scene at the end where Houston has Santa Anna on his knees, and the general will agree to anything.

The battle scenes, when they come, are brutal and relentless. Remarkably, several of Santa Anna's men begin climbing up the scaling ladders to get into the Alamo must have known they would certainly die, and yet they climbed them heedlessly. This intimate hand-to-hand conflict is balanced by awesome long shots, with some special effects shots that are generally convincing.

Unfortunately, while the battle at Alamo took up a chunk of the final 45 minutes of the film, the retribution, led by Houston, lasted only three minutes, which left me feeling a bit unsatisfied. Granted, it was written on the screen that Houston defeated Santa Anna's troops in 18 minutes, I would've liked to have seen 10-12 minutes of it. The payback should've been more of a payoff.

Without a shadow of a doubt, Thornton steals the movie. His Crockett is a humorously self-deprecating charmer who knows more about handling certain situations than killing bears. Thornton definitely channeled the spirit of Crockett into this performance. Regrettably, the other characters appear to be going through the motions during this drawn-out film.

While Houston proclaimed, "Remember The Alamo" before the retribution, the film "The Alamo" is somewhat forgettable at two and three-quarter stars.

"The Alamo" is rated PG-13 for sustained intense battle sequences. Running time is 2 hours, 17 minutes.

Mel Gibson's "The Passion Of The Christ" reclaimed the No. 1 position in the box office, after dropping from the spot three weeks ago. With an additional $15.2 million, "The Passion Of The Christ" has brought in an impressive $353 million in seven weeks.

Last week's No. 2 movie, "Walking Tall" is walking south to the fifth slot with $8.4 million added to its two-week total of $28.9 million.

For more information and show times, contact Regal Cinemas Marketplace 24, 180 Mill Road, Oaks, at (610) 666-6697.

Dennis J. Wright can be reached at dwright@phoenixvillenews.com.

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