Blame it on Quentin Tarantino and the infamous pseudoquote from Ezekiel he wrote into Pulp Fiction. Trashy treatments of religious themes have been all the rage lately, and while there’s nothing wrong with conveying spiritual ideas in down-to-earth terms, the latest films to tell heavenly stories with earthly meanings have squandered their potential.
Take The Devil’s Advocate. Now, of course, any film starring Al Pacino at his scenery-chewing best as the lord of the underworld is bound to be kitschy. But is that any reason to skimp on the script? Is Pacino’s overacting so riveting that a director can get away with casting Keanu Reeves as his youngest partner in the law firm?
There are interesting ideas concerning temptation and free will in Taylor Hackford’s film, but they are undermined by the editing, which throws distracting images onscreen while Pacino delivers his meatier lines; the plot meanders through a dozen predictable twists before ending in a long, uninspired tirade that ultimately goes nowhere.
Meanwhile, you’ve got demons masquerading as sexually libidinous women and a pedophile who masturbates in court during his victim’s testimony. Pacino may tell Reeves that the secret to success is to keep a low profile, but everyone in the film is such an exhibitionist, it rather undoes his point.
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Demons will be demons, I guess. But what about angels? While they may be sickly sweet on television, they’ve been a little less predictable lately at the movies. They’ve already been portrayed as psychopaths (The Prophecy) and paunchy layabouts (Michael); now, in A Life Less Ordinary, they get to be matchmaking assassins.
That’s right, assassins, but not the biblical kind. Holly Hunter and Delroy Lindo play a pair of gun-toting angels sent to earth to ensure that a recently unemployed janitor (Ewan McGregor) and the hostage he kidnapped from under her father’s nose (Cameron Diaz) fall in love, or die trying.
Gabriel (Dan Hedaya) oversees them all from a celestial police station where the cops and hookers are all dressed in the most blindingly white clothes you’ve ever seen.
However quirky the premise might be, the film itself is a chaotic mess. The leads are all fans of pulpy romance novels; the janitor and even one of the angels aspire to be bad writers themselves. This does not bode well for the filmmakers’ aspirations, and indeed, Danny Boyle’s follow-up to Shallow Grave and Trainspotting is a major disappointment.
The reckless energy Boyle controlled so well in those other two films runs way, way out of control in this one. Some ideas work — Hunter hasn’t been this delightfully cartoonish since Raising Arizona — but the film teems with badly executed ideas, all of them tossed into the mix simply because they can be.
In art as in life, everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial.
It remains to be seen whether a movie can truly give the devil — or the angels — their due. But at least one tantalizing possibility lurks on the horizon.
The studio that produced A Life Less Ordinary has optioned Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness and assigned the scriptwriting chores to Chuck Russell, a director whose credits include Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Eraser, Jim Carrey’s The Mask, the 1988 remake of The Blob and the third installment in the Nightmare on Elm Street series.
It’ll be trashy, all right, but hey, at least this time it’ll be Christian trash.