Reviewer: Charity Bishop
Romance is in the air when Prince Don Pedro (Denzel Washington) and his accompanying officers bide their time leisurely in Italy at the home of a well-known and somewhat idle Lord and his family. Beatrice (Emma Thompson), cousin of the lovely young Hero (Kate Beckinsale), is a wit, and engages in a verbal battle with Seigneur Benedick (Kenneth Branagh), of which she has for some time irritated. Finding himself outsmarted, Benedick vows that no woman will ever win his heart. When friend Claudio (Keanu Reeves) expresses a "love" toward Hero, he rants and raves on the atrocities of women, having little influence.
Don Pedro agrees to arrange an alliance between Claudio and Hero during the evening's festivities, however, his maniacal brother (Keanu Reeves) gains wind of the plot and attempts in more ways than one to mess the match out of pure meanness. Fortunately Beatrice is cunning enough to keep disaster from coming about and Hero is happily matched and to be wed, however, there is turbulence coming their way... as well as plenty of laughs, when His Majesty vows, with the help of the entire household, to bring Beatrice and Benedick together! Witty misinterpretations and straight-out false tales begin to spin through the air so that neither Beatrice nor Benedick knows what is afoot, nor that the household is laughing over them! But this little game of mixed passions will be disrupted by a blatant scheme of revenge that may mean Hero's death, and this time... wit will get them nowhere.
William Shakespeare couldn't have chosen a more appropriate title for this mixed bag of wit, charm, deception, and hidden passions that turns out to be really Much Ado About Nothing! He probably would have liked this adaptation. In true fashion to his version of Hamlet, Kenneth Branagh mixes the proper amount of nudity and sensuality to a film where none was needed. It could have stood on its own two feet. Once you get past the opening credits you're nearly home free and can lose yourself in a very witty and charming romantic tale, from the hilarious moments of misguided tales to evoke passionate thoughts to Benedick's encounter with a lawn chair. Language-wise, there's little to be worried about. Perhaps ten misuses of "Lord" or "God," and several of "bastard." There's a hilarious little spot in which an idiotic captain of the guard seems actually pleased that a prisoner called him an "ass," and this is brought up probably six times in two minutes. However, the PG13 rating comes from more desensitizing content---namely nudity and implied sexuality.
During the opening credits, both male and female rear nudity are seen a dozen times as they prepare for guests. There's a brief but graphic scene on the balcony that involves a standing sexual encounter. A man repetitively touches a woman's breast in flirtation and then pulls her down on top of him. Various amounts of cleavage are present, along with cleverly veiled discussions about Hero's "maidenhood" (whether or not she is a virgin). It's really too bad they chose to spice it up unnecessarily since it's witty, charming, and loads of fun. There are plenty of edited versions floating around that cut out the offensive material. You'll get the original idea of Shakespeare's ironic sense of humor without being offended, and get plenty of laughs along the way.