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Originally published Thursday, October 10, 2013 at 3:06 PM

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This ‘Romeo & Juliet’ isn’t to die for

A movie review of “Romeo & Juliet,” a version of the classic that has a greeting-card prettiness, shot on location in Italy with its cast costumed in Renaissance finery, but its two leads have zero chemistry.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie Review 2 stars

‘Romeo & Juliet,’ with Douglas Booth, Hailee Steinfeld, Paul Giamatti, Lesley Manville. Directed by Carlo Carlei, from a screenplay by Julian Fellowes. 118 minutes. Rated PG-13 for some violence and thematic elements. Several theaters.

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Verona, we have a problem. And thy name is Juliet.

You know Juliet. The just-one-look girl. When Romeo claps orbs on her for the first time, it’s supposed to be a gnoing-noing-noing — eyes bugging out like a Tex Avery wolf — moment.

The impetuous lad will do anything to win her. He’ll give up everything to have her (and does). Whooo baby! Let’s get hitched, pronto. And who cares if our two families hate each other’s guts.

It’s heat. It’s chemistry. It’s that indefinable kismet/kiss-me something or other that sparks between them. And in producer-writer Julian Fellowes’ “Romeo & Juliet” (Carlo Carlei directed) it’s not there.

The problem is Hailee Steinfeld. She’s the right age, just 15 when the picture was shot (Juliet is 13 going on 14). But everything else about her Juliet is wrong.

Alas, the lass lacks the looks and magnetism here to be the kind of head-turner the role requires. Douglas Booth, the English actor who plays Romeo, is the real looker in this pairing, with his square sculpted jaw and pouty lips.

As for her performance, oh dear. And that’s the real surprise. Steinfeld shot to prominence with her rightfully Oscar-nominated performance as Mattie Ross in the Coen brothers’ “True Grit.” There isn’t a false note in her razor-sharp portrayal of the tart-tongued frontier girl doggedly determined to see that her father’s murderer is brought to justice. By contrast, her work in “Romeo & Juliet” has the consistency of mush.

She unaccountably rushes her lines and delivers them so softly you may find yourself wanting to yell at the screen, “Speak up, child! Speak clearly. E-nun-ci-ate.”

About those lines. Fellowes, whose résumé includes “Downton Abbey,” which he created, has taken significant liberties with Shakespeare’s text, so many that scholars have cried foul even before the picture’s release.

Secondary roles are well-cast, with Paul Giamatti a particular standout as the doomed couple’s trusted confidant, Friar Laurence. His work crackles with intelligence and brims with deep feeling.

Shot on location in Italy with the cast costumed in Renaissance finery, the visuals of this “Romeo & Juliet” have a greeting-card prettiness. Of the many, many iterations of the story that have been filmed over the years, Fellowes’ version is among the least of these.

Soren Andersen:

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