“Noah” is a cinematic enigma – both maddening and magnificent.

The latest from director Darren Aronofsky manages to astound even as it threatens to completely jump the rails. It both embraces the biblical epic genre it is a part of and shuns it with unconventional storytelling.

It’s not a masterpiece by any stretch, but it is a strong piece of filmmaking that is quite interesting throughout.

The story is one that anyone familiar with the Old Testament will recognize, but it’s told in a way that’s different from what one might imagine.

Russell Crowe plays the title character, chosen by God to build an ark and save the animals before an apocalyptic flood destroys the Earth.

It is clear from the opening moments that this is a loose interpretation, with Aronofsky creating an epic world full of life and wonder. Two of the film’s greatest scenes involve the creation of the Earth and the flood itself. Both scenes play to Aronofsky’s strength as a visual director, a spectacular bit of filmmaking.

There is a quiet confidence in Crowe’s performance that works – with Noah portrayed as a man conflicted about God’s intention of how his family is supposed to proceed once the flood has finished. It gives “Noah” a human element that I wasn’t expecting.

There also is good work from Jennifer Connelly, as Noah’s wife, and Anthony Hopkins as Methuselah.

For all the strengths, there are some baffling moments in “Noah” as well.

While the addition of falling angels who look like some form of rock creature Transformers is visually impressive, it borders on campiness that undermines the film. The addition of Ray Winstone as a descendant of Cain who becomes a stowaway on the ark feels like an addition to create a villain – a decision that nearly sinks the film as well.

“Noah” requires a leap of faith, but if you are willing to take a chance it is a film that will challenge and impress – even if it is a little messy and uneven.

Also in theaters

The week’s other new release is “Bad Words” (B), the directorial debut of Jason Bateman. It’s a dark comedy that manages to have a bit of a soft side as well.

Bateman also stars, playing Guy – a 40-year-old who finds a loophole that allows him to compete in a spelling bee against elementary and junior high students.

It’s all a plot by Guy to get revenge for a lousy, fatherless childhood.

But as Guy’s plan begins to take shape, things get complicated when he develops a friendship with one of the bee’s competitors (Rohan Chand).

Written by Andrew Dodge, “Bad Words” isn’t afraid to cross the line of political correctness, an R-rated comedy that features plenty of laughs but also has gags that are rather uncomfortable to watch (but effective as well).

Bateman has found a niche playing a fast-talking abrasive character as of late, so it’s not a surprise to see him deliver another quality comedic performance.

Chand nearly matches him, with the perfect mix and verbal jabs and childhood innocence that makes it work.

“Bad Words” could have had a more detailed backstory for Guy, and a subplot involving an on-again, off-again romance with a female reporter (Kathryn Hahn) doesn’t always work, but there are more than enough laughs to forgive the film’s shortcomings.

This is one of the better comedies in recent memories, one that isn’t afraid to take chances.

“Bad Words” is rated R for crude and sexual content, language and brief nudity and is now playing at the Regal Greenwood Mall Stadium 10.

— To get sportswriter/movie reviewer Micheal Compton’s thoughts on all things movies, visit his blog atmcompton.wordpress.com or his Twitter page at twitter.com/mcompton428. Email him at mcompton@bgdailynews.com.


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