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Gods should go AWOL now

'Gettysburg' prequel is an insomnia cure, but Civil War buffs may like it

Writer-director Ronald F. Maxwell must be some kind of a madman. 'Gods and Generals,' the prequel to his equally coma-inducing 'Gettysburg,' is 31Ú2 hours long. Factor in trailers, ads and such, and we're talking about roughly four hours of time investment here.

Yikes.

This isn't 'Lord of the Rings' long, where you marvel at how quickly the hours fly by. This is waiting-at-the-DMV long, the sort of long that has you shifting in your seat like a restless 5-year-old, checking your watch furtively as 216 golden minutes of your life are slowly, painfully strangled.

The film focuses on Thomas 'Stonewall' Jackson, played by Stephen Lang. He's a larger-than-life sort of fellow, inspiring loyalty in his men and fear in his enemies. He also has a very personal and devoted relationship with God and spends a lot of time praying and/or chatting about his faith. Admittedly, this is unusual for a Hollywood movie, but it isn't especially interesting to watch on the screen.

Jeff Daniels reprises his 'Gettysburg' role as Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the Maine professor who became one of the primary Union generals during the war. Daniels is a good actor, but he's saddled with awkward, stilted dialogue and a huge, bushy mustache. Plus, ever since 'Dumb and Dumber,' it's kind of hard to take him seriously.

Robert Duvall once again plays himself, although here he's called 'Robert E. Lee.' OK, that's an oversimplification and probably just mean Ñ Duvall plays Lee with a great deal of stalwart dignity, pretty much acting everybody else off the screen. But since fine Duvall performances are available for viewing in any number of movies that are considerably more interesting and that don't take a sixth of a day to watch, there's no reason to subject yourself to 'Gods and Generals' just for his sake.

Mira Sorvino and some other actress appear as generals' wives (hey, there are 158 speaking parts Ñ just try figuring out who's who) to inflate things even further with scenes fleshing out the home lives. A number of stunt cameos occasionally startle the audience out of its collective stupor Ñ a mutton-chopped Sen. Phil Gramm pops up as a member of the Richmond House of Delegates, and Ted Turner and Sen. Robert Byrd appear as Confederate officers. (Turner produced the film at a cost of $53 million, so who was going to tell him no?)

Turner himself is really the one to blame for this fiasco more than Maxwell. 'Gods and Generals' reportedly cost four times what Turner Broadcasting spent on 'Gettysburg,' which was never intended to be anything other than a television production. The original cut of this prequel was Ñ get ready Ñ six hours long and will supposedly appear in that form on the DVD release.

So why the heck isn't 'Gods and Generals' on television, where it belongs? With it's sanitized, bloodless battle scenes and long running time, this thing cries out to be a television miniseries. Aside from hard-core Civil War buffs and beleaguered film critics, it's frankly difficult to fathom why anyone would sit in a theater and subject themselves to this overlong snooze of a movie.