“Bel Canto” por­trays the hostage crisis in Lima, Peru. | Courtesy Wikipedia

“Bel Canto” may mean “beau­tiful singing,” but it sure as heck doesn’t mean “beau­tiful movie.”

On Rotten Tomatoes, “Bel Canto,” directed by Paul Weitz and released in Sep­tember, scored a 60 percent, which tells you exactly what kind of movie it is: mediocre. The only thing that saved it from total dis­aster was the okay acting from a few great actors. 

The movie is based on the book by Ann Patchett inspired by the true story of the 1996 Japanese hostage crisis in Lima, Peru. In the movie, Katsumi Hosokawa (played by Ken Watanabe) is a Japanese busi­nessman vis­iting an unspec­ified South American country and attending a party where his opera idol, American Roxanne Coss (Julianne Moore), is per­forming. The party, set in the mansion of the vice pres­ident, is made up of high profile dig­ni­taries and becomes the target of guerillas on a mission to kidnap the pres­ident and con­vince him to set free political pris­oners.      While the real life crisis lasted 126 days, the movie does not show how long the hostages were held. Instead, it focuses on the rela­tion­ships and dynamics that develop between the hostages and their cap­tives. 

Though the premise is gripping and the trailer adver­tises an action-packed story (more along the lines of “Argo”) the devel­opment of the story and char­acters is boring. The one hour and 42-minute runtime dragged and there is only real action for about five minutes of the whole movie. 

The movie focused on the human element of the story by digging deep into the rela­tion­ships. It could have been an inter­esting theme if Weitz had not made every rela­tionship cliché, por­traying the rela­tional dynamics of the char­acters as unre­al­istic and sappy. 

The real crisis in Peru did drag on for months, so of course not every moment was action packed. But the movie was hardly engaging, even as it tried to develop unusual rela­tion­ships between the hostages and between hostages and their captors. There is the love story between Hosokawa and Coss which could be touching but fell into clichés. One moment Coss is an obnoxious diva and views Hosokawa as just another fan. Then a few days later she is falling in love with him as he teaches her chess. There is the mis­un­der­stood bad guy who decided to invade and take everyone hostage in order to nego­tiate the freedom of pris­oners, one of whom is his wife. Instead of being a high-stress prison atmos­phere, the mansion turns into a little commune where the hostages play games and music, and love blossoms.  

 By the end, when the gov­ernment forces swoop in and kill the captors to set the cap­tives free, the cap­tives are weeping over the deaths of their abusers and screaming for them. Perhaps there were some friend­ships between the hostages and guerillas since the real life crisis dragged on for months. But the end of the movie shows the hostages acting almost regretful to leave the mansion and the buddies they made there. They are playing soccer in the garden with each other and laughing and enjoying the sun­shine like they are in some sort of utopia and not in cap­tivity. Perhaps the real-life hostages did have pleasant moments and a genuine affection grew between cap­tives and captors, but the movie paints an unre­al­is­ti­cally opti­mistic picture of cap­tivity.

For such a renowned actress as Julianne Moore, who has won dozens of awards and created mas­ter­pieces like “Still Alice,” this movie was cer­tainly a step down for her. Her per­for­mance is fine, but not remarkable. Her acting was good enough to make the sto­ryline a little more engaging but not enough to make it a good movie. The same applies to Ken Watanabe’s per­for­mance. For these two typ­i­cally stellar actors, their per­for­mances were unin­spired and cer­tainly not mem­o­rable. 

“Bel Canto” under­whelms. The trailer was more inter­esting and engaging than the film and would probably score higher on the “Tomatometer.”