For that same reason, there's no totality to the experience. In a failed compensational effort, the directors use voiceovers from their characters that bleed from one segment to the next with sometimes painfully obvious results. "Our lives are not our own," someone says over one particularly blatant transition. At other times the dialogue enforces a sentimental framework that's borderline preachy: "This world spins from the same unseen forces that twist our hearts," reads one line that could have been excised.
Notwithstanding its writing problems, "Cloud Atlas" is a remarkable showcase of the acting process because it allows us to watch many actors perform under numerous guises. Several lead castmembers appear in various forms throughout the movie, speaking and looking vastly different each time out, but still serving as signposts that point to their other roles. Among them, none is more conspicuous than Tom Hanks, whose shifting appearances come across like scene changes between unfunny sketches on "Saturday Night Live." No matter how much he alters his accent, he's just too recognizable as Tom Hanks to make the connective tissue of the narrative hold together.
But Hanks isn't the only familiar aspect of "Cloud Aspect." As it contains many stories, it calls to mind many movies. Credit for the structure's precedent should go not only to the novel but to D.W. Griffith's silent opus "Intolerance," which also hops between multiple time periods; as a series of puzzle pieces that the filmmakers trust the viewer to put together, the viewing experience sometimes plays out like a supersized "Memento." Nearly every genre in play here calls to mind superior examples. "Cloud Atlas" is a bloated pop spectacle that never holds together but often elegantly flails about, resulting in a noble failure akin to Zack Snyder's "Watchmen" treatment for its appropriating of blockbuster ingredients to make sweeping philosophical statements.
Despite of the issues plaguing "Cloud Atlas," there's no doubting the sense of ambition that pushes it forward. Tywker's involvement aside, "Cloud Atlas" fits well within the distinctive oeuvre of the Wachowskis, who manage to come out swinging with each new project with negligible concern for landing every target. Certainly their weakest effort since the two "Matrix" sequels, "Cloud Atlas" is nonetheless a quintessential Wachowski production.
Criticwire grade: B-
HOW WILL IT PLAY? Warner Bros. releases "Cloud Atlas" October 26. It will generate plenty of interest for the popularity of the book, the Wachowskis, the bizarre epic plot and the cast, but ultimately may have a hard time doing strong business in the long term.