WaPo pans Spike Lee's new WW II movie

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Much like the four soldiers at its center, there's a taut wartime thriller caught behind enemy lines in "Miracle at St. Anna." But unlike the African American GIs pinned between German troops and the racist and incompetent Army brass they serve, the movie that "Miracle" might have been winds up a casualty of schmaltzy, patronizing sentiment on the one hand and overweening ambition on the other.

Directed by Spike Lee with an unusually heavy hand (even for him), "Miracle at St. Anna" is one of the most highly anticipated films of the season, in large part because it's the first major motion picture to represent the experience of black soldiers in World War II. That historic burden weighs heavily on Lee, who has made a film that seeks to do way too many things -- correct a badly distorted record, deliver old-fashioned wartime goose bumps, offer a few salacious sexual asides, pull heartstrings and, oh yes, spin it all into a fairy tale of childlike spiritual transcendence -- and winds up doing none of them well.

"Miracle at St. Anna," which is based on the novel by James McBride, begins in the 1980s, when a postal worker nearing retirement mysteriously pulls out a gun and shoots a customer dead during the Christmas rush. After a few perfunctory scenes (one featuring John Turturro as a cop spitting out some particularly Damon Runyonesque dialogue), the action springs back to 1944, when four "buffalo soldiers" of the 92nd Infantry Division find themselves in a remote Italian village, surrounded by German troops....

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