The film, which opens in U.S. theaters on Valentine's Day, is based on Mark Helprin's 1983 fantasy novel of the same name, and stars Golden Globe winner Colin Farrell ("In Bruges") as a burglar who falls in love with an heiress played by English actress Jessica Brown Findlay, of TV's Downton Abbey.
Set in the early 1900s in a mythical New York with cobble-stone streets, stately mansions and thieving street gangs and also in the present, "Winter's Tale" is a romance that transcends time with magical elements such as a flying white horse and a hero who exists for 100 years without aging.
"This is a fairy tale for grownups," said first-time director Akiva Goldsman, who won an Oscar in 2002 for best screenplay for "A Beautiful Mind."
"It is a wink and a nod to people who have had loss and need to believe in magic," he added.
Goldsman, 51, fell in love with the critically acclaimed novel, but he admits magical realism is a genre that will not appeal to everyone.
"It is the co-existence of serious dramatic scenes and a flying white horse," he said, "That is either delightful to you or aversive. To me it has always been something of an art form."
But critics failed to find the magic in the film released by Time Warner Inc's Warner Bros. unit.
"Oblique, unstructured and demented, 'Winter's Tale' aims to cast a dreamlike spell but it more like a nightmare," said the New York Observer.
The trade journal Variety found it "a cloying sledgehammer-subtle adaptation of Mark Helprin's vastly richer novel," while The Hollywood Reporter said "aspiring transcendent love stories don't come much more claptrappy and unconvincing."
"Winter's Tale" is expected to earn $15 million at U.S. and Canadian theaters over the weekend, according to Boxoffice.com.
BATTLE OF GOOD AND EVIL
Farrell, 37, leads an all-star cast of Oscar winners, including Russell Crowe ("Gladiator") as an evil gang leader and William Hurt ("Kiss of the Spider Woman"), who plays a wealthy newspaper editor and protective father. Jennifer Connelly ("A Beautiful Mind") is a modern-day journalist and Eva Marie Saint ("On the Waterfront") plays her boss, Hurt's adult daughter.
"Winter's Tale" pits Farrell's Peter Lake against his former mentor Pearly Soames, the crime boss played by Crowe, 49, in a battle of good and evil played out over a 100 years.
While Lake is being pursued by Soames and his gang, he robs a mansion where he meets and instantly falls in love with Beverly Penn, a beautiful young heiress dying of tuberculosis.
"One of the cruxes and the bedrock of this film is the presence of a love that defies linear time and the eternal existence of something that is felt and can't be defined," Farrell told Reuters in a interview.