‘Three Thousand Years of Longing’: Idris Elba arrives to grant wishes in meandering fantasy

Strange tale co-stars Tilda Swinton as academic who frees the big guy.

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Alithea (Tilda Swinton) frees a Djinn (Idris Elba) who offers to grant her three wishes in “Three Thousand Years of Longing.”

MGM

Idris Elba is a dominant screen presence who brings enormous charisma to every role he takes — but even the great ones can have a couple of misfires in a row. Elba is 0-for-the-last-2-weeks with the ludicrous African safari adventure “Beast” and now the ambitious but off-putting and meandering “Three Thousand Years of Longing,” in which Elba plays essentially a genie who emerges from a bottle and grants three wishes to Tilda Swinton, and it’s my wish the first wish had been for a more cohesive screenplay.

The venerable director George Miller (the “Mad Max” movies, “Babe,” “Happy Feet”) delivers a strange and semi-wondrous tale brimming with unimpressive special effects and thinly drawn supporting characters.

In one of the great Tilda Swinton’s rare forays into quirky and eccentric characters (cough-cough), she plays Dr. Alithea Binnie, an academic who has become a world-renowned narratologist, i.e., an expert in all things involving storytelling — and Alithea finds herself inside a real whopper of a story when she purchases a dusty bottle in an Istanbul souk, retires to her hotel room and unwittingly frees a giant Djinn (Elba), who is naked and has pointy ears and a gold coating to his skin and a nicely trimmed goatee and says in a commanding voice, “Do not fear me, nor treat me casually.” Also, you might want to order up some extra room service, Alithea, cuz this guy is nearly as big as the Hulk.

‘Three Thousand Years of Longing’

Untitled

Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures presents a film directed by George Miller and written by Miller and Augusta Gore, based on a short story by A.S. Byatt. Rated R (for some sexual content, graphic nudity and brief violence). Running time: 108 minutes. Opens Thursday in theaters.

It takes all of a Turkish minute for Alithea to accept the presence of this wish-granting Djinn in her hotel room — but being a narratologist and all, she’s naturally skeptical of this type of character (magic wishes almost inevitably boomerang on folks in fables through the centuries), so she asks the 3,000-year-old Djinn to tell her three stories from his life’s experiences. Each of these tales involve the Djinn’s vulnerability to the attention of certain females, which leads to him landing back in the bottle, sometimes for hundreds upon hundreds of years.

The first story takes us back to the tale of Sheba (Aamito Lagum) and King Solomon (Nicolas Mouawad), followed by a segment set in the Ottoman Empire, with concubines and royalty and such, and finally we learn about the Djinn’s tragic love for Zefir (Burcu Gölgedar), who is enslaved by her ruthless old merchant of a husband and seeks solace with the Djinn, but that doesn’t end well at all. Themes of male dominance and female empowerment run through the convoluted storyline, which alternates with the present-day events, in which the self-described loner Alithea begins to wonder if she can find true happiness in the companionship of a Djinn. Sure, it might take some explaining to the nosy neighbors, but the heart wants what it wants, right?

“Three Thousand Years of Longing” actually ends on a creative high note, but the path to that conclusion is filled with muddled adventures that play like something out of a 1980s B-movie. We find ourselves longing for the credits to roll.

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