Megalopolis at Cannes Film Festival review: If you love Francis Ford Coppola give this tawdry mess a miss

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Imagine a Paco Rabanne perfume ad mixed with the voyeuristic lady-gazing of a Sorrentino film and that will give you a whiff of Francis Ford Coppola’s latest – and almost definitely last – film.

Just be grateful the dreadful Italian accent Adam Driver adopted in House of Gucci and Ferrari don’t make an appearance here. Megalopolis is epic in many ways: in its 40-year gestation period, in its 138-minute running time, in its stellar cast and in its abject failure to produce a coherent or remotely entertaining movie.

The film opens with Caesar Catalina (Adam Driver) teetering on the edge of the Chrystler Building, seemingly capable of halting time. (No spoiler this, as it’s in the trailer.)

With his black outfit and the futuristic feel, there is more than a hint of The Matrix here, a feeling expounded when Laurence Fishburne appears later as Fundi Romaine, Catalina’s right-hand man.

The Roman names are because the film is not set in New York, but New Rome, a city and civilisation on the brink of imploding. The comparisons with ancient Rome don’t end there, for Coppola is nothing if not heavy handed.

Women enjoy special treatment in this film. The scene of a cavorting female coterie in a nightclub is an old man’s lesbian fantasy: they lick coke off each other, ride a fake stallion, rub sexily against each other on the dance floor… Maybe Coppola needed to update his original 1980s script/fantasy just a tad.

One of the cavorting women is Julia (Nathalie Emmanuel), the daughter of Mayor Frank Cicero (Giancarlo Esposito), who becomes Caesar’s love interest. Also at the club is Clodio Pulcher (Shia LaBeouf): he’s a slimy pony-tailed schemer desperate to get his hands on his ageing grandpa’s money. His aged relative is Hamilton Crassus III (Jon Voight), a man who wields all the financial clout in the city.

To namecheck all the stars and offer a brief outline of their place in this story would take up too much space, so we’ll stick to the lead character for now: Caesar has been accused of killing his wife and disappearing her body. He is also a brilliant Nobel prize-winning scientist who has created Megalon, a substance used in building that will resist everything.

He envisages using this substance to create a new city that looks like something out of Disney’s disappointing cartoon Elemental. He is in a relationship with – wait for it – Platinum Wow (Aubrey Plaza), a TV presenter enamoured of Caesar, but he advises her never to marry for love.

So she goes after Cassius and schemes to take over his bank while he embarks on a relationship with Julia, the daughter of his arch enemy. The plot is exhausting and absurd. Plaza perhaps is the most fun to watch while Driver and LeBeouf, despite their incredible talent, just can’t wrestle a decent performance between them out of the muddled script, which has Driver spouting both Hamlet and The Tempest but no Julius Caesar. Oh, and there’s a rogue Russian satellite that risks falling from the skies, but that’s another story.

Screening in Cannes, Coppola’s film had a surprise in store for the audience, with a man coming on stage to have a ‘live ‘interaction with Caesar on screen. But by this stage, it was too little too late to salvage the film and the gimmick fell flat.

In the unlikely event that the film manages to get a theatrical release, I doubt this stage act will be replicated in cinemas around the world. To write a scathing review is no pleasure and it would have been a delight to state that this once great director had created a masterpiece.

However, if Coppola’s ego is big enough to show this in Cannes, then it should be big enough to deal with the odd bad review. If you love Coppola, then give this tawdry mess a miss.