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Queen

Elizabeth

Elizabeth: The Golden Age may disappoint at Oscar time, but for those in on the joke, this over-the-top sequel is sure to please

If there is one mission, one important stand that gay people the world over embrace with passion burning bright in their eyes, it's this: Cate Blanchett's 1999 Oscar loss to Gwyneth Paltrow mustbe avenged.

Now Blanchett finally has her shot, as she is reprising her runner-up role in Elizabeth: The Golden Age, which reunites the actress with the original's director, Shekhar Kapur. The first Elizabethwas nominated for Best Picture, and with all the principals reassembled and a tasty chunk of history to plunder (Blanchett's Elizabeth I weathering assassination attempts andromance), some might expect Oscar nominations -- and wins -- to follow. It is my duty as film critic to suggest that you adjust your expectations.

Elizabeth: The Golden Agewill certainly rack up its fair share of craft nominations (costume designer Alexandra Byrne should start planning her speech now), and Blanchett may be nominated still, but the film is an over-the-top mess, crammed to the gills like one of Elizabeth's overconstructed hairpieces and just as prone to wild tilting. This is not to say the film is unwatchable, though staid critics and Oscar mavens will react in horror. Rather, the film is one of the most campy spectacles this year -- it's the Live Free or Die Hardof British costume dramas.

Blanchett may have aced the first film with her subtle transition from girl to woman, but the sequel finds her delivering a Bette Davis performance that at least suggests she is in on the movie's joke. And it's a wild joke indeed, with moments that are so absurd, you can't help but laugh. Whether it's a white horse completing a slo-mo jump from an exploding galleon or a slap-happy Elizabeth launching herself at a handmaiden (as Geoffrey Rush lurches out of the shadows hissing "Dignity!"), Kapur seems to have crafted each scene to be as bizarre as possible. One sequence finds Elizabeth chuckling as ever-more-ridiculous attractions (acrobats, exotic animals) are wheeled into a formal party -- it's the film in a nutshell.

Clive Owen joins the sequel as Sir Walter Raleigh, an explorer who flirts with conquering the most impossible territory of all -- Elizabeth's virginity. I never thought I could say this of Owen, but Kapur paints him as such a Harlequin novel love interest that he could be replaced by Fabio with no ill effects. Worse is Abbie Cornish as Elizabeth's most trusted handmaiden -- she's so bland that when Raleigh tells the besotted girl, "Forget me," she'sthe one who's slipped from your mind. Amid all this, only the ever-fierce Blanchett escapes alive. She'll still be a gay icon, but she can now add a camp contingent. The first film may have been Blanchett's coming-out party, but Elizabeth: The Golden Ageis more like herVirgin Dearest.

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Kyle Buchanan