A feel-good, genius story from Ron Howard fizzles

A Beautiful Mind Starring Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, and Ed Harris. Directed by Ron Howard. Rated PG-13.
Rated 2.0 While Linklater trusts his brainy material enough to know that it’ll be fun as well as thought-provoking for the audience, Ron Howard is so relentlessly intent on the feel-good stuff in A Beautiful Mind that he virtually erases every element of the story worth caring about.

Howard’s film has a sure-fire subject—the life of John Nash, a mathematical genius who eventually won the Nobel Prize, but only after an extended battle with schizophrenia. And with Russell Crowe playing Nash, the film has considerable star power going for it too, but Howard and company succeed only in floundering in simplistic glop and paint-by-numbers emotionality.

Nash’s genius and his madness are portrayed in cursory and utterly superficial terms, and the rest of Howard’s film plunges into a potpourri of audience-friendly portraiture—Nash as a victim of Ivy League snobbery, Nash as fall-out from Cold War paranoia, Nash as would-be womanizer lacking in social skills and fashion sense. It’s not a particularly coherent picture, and the filmmakers try to gloss it over with the tritest move of all—Nash as workaholic careerist redeemed by love.

You get some sense of the film’s sucker-punch psychology from the information that Ed Harris, who looms large in the film’s publicity, plays not a character but a hallucination here. And a prime emblem of the film’s sentimental evasions is Jennifer Connelly, who gives the best performance in the film but is wasted on a grievously underwritten characterization (as Nash’s heroically loyal wife).