American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
"The Princess Bride" begins as a story that a grandfather is reading out of a book. But already the movie has a spin on it, because the grandfather is played by Peter Falk, and in the distinctive quality of his voice we detect a certain edge. His voice seems to contain a measure of cynicism about fairy stories, a certain awareness that there are a lot more things on heaven and Earth than have been dreamed of by the Brothers Grimm.
The story he tells is about Buttercup, a beautiful princess (Robin Wright) who scornfully orders around a farm boy (Cary Elwes) until the day when she realizes, thunderstruck, that she loves him. She wants to live happily ever after with him, but then evil forces intervene, and she is kidnapped and taken far away across the lost lands, while he is killed.
"Is this story going to have a lot of kissing in it?" Falk's grandson asks. Well, it's definitely going to have a lot of Screaming Eels.
The moment the princess is taken away by agents of the evil Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon), "The Princess Bride" reveals itself as a sly parody of sword and sorcery movies, a film that somehow manages to exist on two levels at once: While younger viewers will sit spellbound at the thrilling events on the screen, adults, I think, will be laughing a lot. In its own peculiar way, "The Princess Bride" resembles "This Is Spinal Tap," an earlier film by the same director, Rob Reiner. Both films are funny not only because they contain comedy, but because Reiner does justice to the underlying form of his story. "Spinal Tap" looked and felt like a rock documentary - and then it was funny. "The Princess Bride" looks and feels like "Legend" or any of those other quasi-heroic epic fantasies - and then it goes for the laughs.