It has the makings of a deep political drama -- or a royally funny farce. On the eve of war in 1939, the young king and queen of England visited Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his wife at the president's country estate, the home that gives this movie its title.

But "Hyde Park on Hudson" is neither of those things. Or much of anything else, really. It counts as one of the year's biggest disappointments. Bill Murray was an inspired choice to portray the 32nd president. The actor known primarily for his comic work embraced the role, too.

But he and the rest of the talented cast can do nothing but flounder in this movie without any plot to speak of. It can't be called a character study, either, since we don't really get to know any of the characters. It's not even useful as an entertaining history lesson -- it's neither entertaining nor historically accurate.

The disaster that is "Hyde Park on Hudson" is puzzling, because its director has done so much good work in the past. Roger Michell has directed many excellent films, including "Venus," "Notting Hill" and "Persuasion." Perhaps it's that screenwriter Richard Nelson gave him nothing to work with. Or it's that sometimes foreigners have trouble understanding the complicated country of America.

On screen
'Hyde Park on Hudson'
1.5 out of 4 stars
Stars: Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Olivia Williams
Director: Roger Michell
Rated: R for brief sexuality
Running time: 94 minutes

The royal visit is told through the eyes of Daisy Stuckley (Laura Linney), a distant cousin of FDR who ends up becoming his lover. "I believe I helped him forget the world," she says. His wife, Eleanor (Olivia Williams), doesn't seem to mind Daisy's new and constant presence at Hyde Park.

But Daisy is forced into the shadows when the royal couple arrives. Bertie (Samuel West) and Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) are tasked with the delicate job of securing American support for the likely war with Germany. But Elizabeth, in particular, feels the trip is meant to make a mockery of her. Cartoons poking fun at British soldiers in the War of 1812 line the walls of their guest room; they're expected to eat hot dogs at a picnic.

In fact, the moment when Bertie must decide whether to eat a hot dog or take his wife's advice and shun them is the closest thing to a climax here, though the rest of the film focuses on the relationship, such as it was, between FDR and his cousin. The best scenes are when FDR and Bertie finally find themselves alone over cocktails.

The cinematic choices are just as inexplicable. There are close-ups of Daisy's face and neck -- as well as paint brushes that have just been mentioned and that have little importance. It seems there is no end of things to cringe at in this mess of a movie.