Q'orianka Kilcher's first role since her stunning breakout as Pocahontas in Terrence Malick'sThe New Worldfinds her playing to type as the last princess of Hawaii, struggling against the American takeover of a then-sovereign republic. It's her second indigenous-vs.-white people role in a row, which suggests troubling things about her career prospects. Marc Forby's directorial debut doesn't try to avoid comparisons with Malick; with rapturous shots of hands passing through pristine fields, it actively courts them. But Forby is much schlockier, employing panpipes to signify that we're now in England when the princess travels there to wait out political turmoil. When she returns to a devastated republic, weepy violins kick in, and the end of an era seems (and is) inevitable as Hawaii becomes just another American colony. To be fair, Princess Kaiulani (previous title, unbelievably: Barbarian Princess) is livelier than the usual period piece; it looks decent and moves fast. But that speed means that a whole lot of history gets way too compressed (the takeover of Hawaii is basically reduced to Kilcher's face versus evil, black-hatted Barry Pepper's mustache, a spectacular follicular creation that upstages his entire performance). And this may be the only film in history to depict someone learning about egalitarianism at a British boarding school (!). Hawaii's dismal onscreen track record continues; bring back James Michener.
Kilcher has become Hollywoods go-to girl for pre-colonial bliss.
Opens at Guild 45 and other theaters, Fri., May 14. Rated PG. 97 minutes.