Every now and then, someone makes one of those rare movies that crosses the lines of romance, action, fantasy, fairy tale, and a story for all ages. And isn't annoying either. With snappy dialogue and lovable characters, "The Princess Bride" is a classic tale of high adventure, danger, true love, screaming eels, and Sicilians who talk too much. And yes, there's kissing.
A bored little boy (Fred Savage) is sick in bed, is told a story by his quirky grandfather (Peter Falk). In it, young lovers Buttercup (Robin Wright) and Westley (Carey Elwes) are separated when Westley is apparently killed. A few years later, the heartbroken Buttercup is unwillingly affianced to the slimy Prince Humperdinck. As if that weren't enough, she's kidnapped by a trio of mercenaries.
But things go wrong for the mercenaries -- a mysterious masked man is following them, and he defeats each of the mercenaries with his swordplay, strength and wits. He also knows quite a bit about Westley's fate -- and Buttercup soon finds that he IS Westley after all. But Buttercup is only a cog in Humperdinck's evil plot, and now it's up to Westley, gentle giant Fezzik (Andre) and vengeance-seeking Spaniard Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin) to save her.
If "Princess Bride" had been done in a halfway serious manner, it wouldn't have been even remotely interesting. It would have been just another kids' film. But with William Goldman's tongue-in-cheek script and entertaining characters (Miracle Max, anyone?), it becomes something a lot sweeter and funnier.
Rob Reiner has a deft, wry touch that matches Goldman's story, and he does a superb job of keeping the grim moments lighter than they would have been otherwise ("We'll never make it through!" "Nonsense, you're only saying that because no one ever has"). With scenes like the torture machine, Miracle Max and Westley's three duels, Reiner keeps it deadpan rather than openly comic. But there are also scenes of touching romance and reconciliation, and some very good swordfights for Inigo.
And the dialogue (penned by Goldman) is full of quotables -- lines like "Inconceivable!" "My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die," "I'm not left-handed!" and "As you wish" are more or less immortalized. At the worst of times it's solid; at the middling times, it's memorably quirky; at the best of times, it's hilarious.
Yes, the title is about Buttercup. But she's a pretty pallid character compared to Westley, Fezzik and Patinkan. Elwes always seems to be winking at both the characters and audience, while Andre is lovable as the sportsmanlike, superstrong giant, and Patinkan as the discouraged Spaniard searching for a six-fingered man. His clash with the casually evil Rugen is a wonderful action-packed climax.
And Billy Crystal makes a brief but insanely good appearance as the Miracle Man, an embittered medieval healer with a very peeved wife (Carol Kane, who steals the scene with her shrieks of "Liar!").
Crammed with adventure, true love, swordfights, pirates, casual villains, and a clergyman with a speech impediment, "The Princess Bride" is an adorable comic classic. A must-see.