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Stars: James Franco, Jon Hamm, David Strathairn, Bob Balaban, Mary-Louise Parker, Jeff Daniels, Treat Williams, Alessandro Nivola

Director: Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman

Animation sequences, bold and expressionistic, are the chief reason for watching this otherwise enervating account of the early life of 'Beat Generation' poet Allen Ginsberg (Franco) - the Salvador Dali of verse - and, in particular, the obscenity trial centred on his controversial (and lengthy) poem Howl. Franco's droning delivery of it does the poem no justice, and is more likely to send the listener to sleep, rather than provoke outrage or appreciation.

The animation work is brilliant, and vividly pictures Ginsberg's provocative words, but its images do become repetitive, and the courtroom scenes are as dry as dust in the spite of spectacular widescreen camerawork and the presence of several acting heavyweights. And the directors' approach to other scenes unfortunately drains the life out of the subject.

Of several films made about Ginsberg, Cassady, Kerouac and others of their generation, this is one of the least approachable. For this critic, at least, not so much Howl as Yawn.

David Quinlan

USA 2010. UK Distributor: Metrodome. Technicolor.
84 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 2.

Review date: 23 Feb 2011