`Columbus' In The Doldrums

XX "Christopher Columbus: The Discovery," with George Corraface, Marlon Brando, Rachel Ward, Tom Selleck and Robert Davi. Directed by John Glen, from a screenplay by John Briley, Cary Bates and Mario Puzo. Aurora Village, Crossroads, Factoria, Grand Cinemas, Kent 6, Lewis & Clark, Newmark, Parkplace, Puget Park, Seatac 12. "PG-13" - parental guidance suggested, due to brief violence, naked natives. ---------------------------------

Regardless of its dubious approach to history and the uproarious miscasting of Tom Selleck as King Ferdinand of Spain, the first major film about the voyage of Christopher Columbus (followed by Ridley Scott's lavish "1492," which opens Oct. 9) is certainly an eyeful, and it stirs the adventurous spirit enough to make it a laudable effort on strictly physical terms.

Ambitiously produced by Alexander and Ilya Salkind, the film bears the best and worst of their creative powers, which span from the first, best "Superman" movie on down to such dreck as "Santa Claus: The Movie." Their strategy is to pump ungodly amounts of money and star power into films tailored to every possible demographic profile. Blandness is most often the result.

Their take on "Christopher Columbus: The Discovery," with the seasoned assistance of veteran James Bond director John Glen, is to present Columbus - played with noteworthy charisma by George Corraface - as an ultra-handsome man of action. It's ridiculous, but Corraface lends this GQ-style adventurer an air of impassioned providence.

Dramatic liberties aside, the film is quite loyal to historical details, emphasizing Columbus' opposition by Spanish inquisitor Torquemada (Marlon Brando, providing the same supportive presence he brought to "Superman"). Queen Isabella (Rachel Ward) proves more supportive, and the bulk of the film routinely charts Columbus' arduous westbound journey, incorporating subplots about Portuguese saboteurs onboard and unrest following their landing among curious natives on the island that Columbus christened San Salvador.

The film benefits greatly from the use of three totally authentic ship replicas, but the real thing - as presented in the PBS series about Columbus - is still much more inspiring.