If we were grading “Much Ado About Nothing” purely on daring, Joss Whedon would deserve heaps of praise for following up one of the highest-grossing movies ever made, “The Avengers,” with a low-budget Shakespeare film, reportedly shot in just 12 days in and around the adapter-director’s house. Would that the movie itself were as fresh and bold as its own production; while Whedon, no stranger to witty repartee himself, has a feel for the wordplay and japery of this classic romantic farce, the final results are disappointingly mediocre.
The film’s most front-and-center problem is the casting of Alexis Denisof (“Angel”) in the lead role of Benedick. (Denisof, like many of the actors featured here, has a track record with Whedon’s earlier film and TV work.) “Much Ado” centers around the brash Benedick, who claims he will remain ever a bachelor, and the “merry war” of wits he conducts with the fair and sharp-tongued Beatrice (Amy Acker, “Dollhouse,” “The Cabin in the Woods”), who similarly plans never to wed.
See video: 'Much Ado About Nothing' Trailer: Joss Whedon's Duet With Shakespeare The balance between these two equal rivals — and the way they are tricked into turning their passion for each other from hate to love — is essential to the story, but while Acker successfully portrays a woman too smart and too strong to be shoved to the altar, Denisof never matches her fire. Without a Benedick that is up to her level, we don’t want to see Beatrice fall in love, and the inequity between the leads sinks the movie.