In the mid-19th century, Oxford University appointed James Murray (producer Mel Gibson), an unlettered Scotsman and a genius autodidact fluent in 20 languages, to begin work on the Oxford English Dictionary, still today the most comprehensive lexicon of any language. His method was to invite the public to suggest word origins for inclusion. The plan was if anything too successful, resulting in thousands of submissions that threatened to inundate Murray and his staff. 

Ten thousand of these came from William Minor (Sean Penn), an American doctor, unfortunately, a paranoid schizophrenic murderer currently residing at Broadmoor and crazier than a rat in a rain barrel. The two meet, and Minor subsequently becomes instrumental in getting things sorted. It’s a great story. Look it up. But perhaps skip this awful picture.

Mel Gibson’s much-delayed mess, based on a 1998 book by Simon Winchester, has been plagued by production spats since it wrapped in 2016, and it is just now reaching a few theaters. How’s that for timing? You know a picture’s in trouble when the listed director’s name is fictive 

Superficial, tedious, overlong and edited with a hatchet, a lot of the time is taken up with Penn’s playing to the gallery as the madman, because what else do you do with such a role?  Personally, I’d had enough of that halfway through I Am Sam.

Supporting roles are dutifully filled by Eddie Marsan, Natalie Dormer, Jennifer Ehle and Steve Coogan, none of whom will be listing this high on their filmographies. (124 min)