First Look Pictures // 2001 // 112 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Eric Profancik (Retired) // April 13th, 2004
"A game in the dark."
Though the official tagline of this film is "Heaven and Hell are on Earth, and they're wearing heels," I believe my charge captures the spirit of the film much better. As I watched Sin Noticias de Dios (Don't Tempt Me), so much of the underlying reasoning for the events of the film went unexplained that I was in the dark. What is really going on? Why are they so intent on this man? It's both clever and annoying that the film took this nebulous path. While it gives the movie a mysterious and intriguing feel, it's also a lazy way to avoid fleshing out a full plot. Regardless, the shadowy qualities of Don't Tempt Me kept me interested until the end.
Heaven is in crisis and on the verge of collapse. As Hell bulges with new admissions, Heaven lags far behind with people worthy of admittance.
In Heaven, Operations Manager Marina D'Angelo visits her best agent (an angel), Lola Nevado (Victoria Abril, Between Your Legs), and tells her she is needed for an imperative mission on Earth. A request has come through from a mother to save the soul of her son, a boxer named Manny. It would appear that Manny's soul represents a crux in history. If his soul is saved, then, via a domino effect, Heaven will also be saved. Lola arrives on Earth under the guise of Manny's wife. They, of course, have never been married, but Manny isn't aware of this. As Lola works to keep Manny out of the boxing ring and out of trouble, complications quickly arise.
In Hell, Operations Manager Davenport catches wind of Heaven's plans. He, in turn, calls up one of his many agents (a dark angel), Carmen Ramos (Penelope Cruz, Vanilla Sky), to go to Earth to claim Manny's soul. Carmen arrives at Manny's house and is instantly welcomed as his long lost niece. Upon meeting, Carmen and Lola instantly recognize each other for what they really are. While Lola has rules to follow, Carmen can tempt Manny any way she pleases.
In the midst of all of this, a coup is brewing in Hell. The ranks are overflowing with ethically challenged business professionals, and they want to make some changes to the system, like adding air conditioning. Davenport catches wind of the burgeoning coup and revises his game plan to make sure he stays in charge. Will the coup be successful? Who will win Manny's soul?
If this description sounds a bit silly or campy, don't believe it. There is no attempt at "cheese" in this film, and everything is handled in a serious fashion. It is the fate of Heaven and Hell, and these angels will decide the future of all mankind. This straight-laced approach to the film is compelling, different, and eventually unique. Unlike, say, the Angelic War of The Prophecy, this is a low-key approach to the topic without the dogmas of religion being thrust upon you. Even if you don't believe in the concepts, the movie can still pique your interest. From the outset, the film takes an innovative approach to the depiction of Heaven and Hell. I'm sure one could read many different subtexts as a result of this symbolism, but I've never felt that was my strongpoint. Our story takes place in all three realms, with most of it on Earth, in Spain. As such, people on Earth speak Spanish. When we visit Heaven, the movie becomes black and white, takes on a '50s feel, and looks like Paris, and everyone speaks French. And, in the circles of Hell, reminiscent of Dante, it's a dark and dangerous place where people appear to be given their most dreaded job (e.g., a waitress in a greasy spoon) and where everyone speaks English. Now, what are they trying to say with that? English is spoken in Hell? Is America the great Satan? (Oh, sorry, wrong religion.) I don't know what to think about the symbolism of the language choices, especially since they speak French in Heaven. You'd think a Spanish filmmaker would have some cultural bias and have his native tongue used in Heaven. I just don't know.
What is interesting and frustrating is the lack of details in the crisis. You can understand the basic conceit that people today indulge in too many vices and are more apt to go to Hell than to Heaven. But, why would Heaven collapse because their inflow isn't as great as Hell's? What exactly will happen to Heaven and Hell? What happens to God and everyone in Heaven? It's all left to your imagination. But more perplexing is Manny's role in all of this. With no explanation, we're meant to believe that this one man will determine the ultimate fate. But why? With nothing more than a casual brush-off, no details are given. You don't know what this man possesses that will tilt the scales in one direction or another. But even if you can get past that and just go with the flow, there's a problem with Manny himself: He doesn't seem worthy of entrance into Heaven. He's an egotistical, mean-spirited, abusive man. Manny treats his "wife," Lola, like scum, thinks about hitting her, and has impure thoughts about other women. This man appears to be suited far better for Hell than for Heaven. So, why is his soul the apparent salvation of all goodness? It would have worked to the film's benefit to answer these questions. Certainly a few breadcrumbs would have been sufficient and also maintained the veil of secrecy over the movie. You just need some idea of why Manny is so important to everyone.
In addition to the plight of Manny and Heaven and Hell, there's also a bit of social criticism afoot in Don't Tempt Me. Based on the little I know of Spanish culture, I gleaned that the film also wants to take aim at the roles of women in Spanish society and the power disparity between those of privilege and the common people. I cannot say how successful this aspect of the film is, but it does make a very clear and obvious point.
What really stands out for me in this film, beyond the provocative use of multiple languages, is the acting of our female leads. Subtle yet effective, Abril and Cruz are charming, sexy, shy, and excellent in their roles. My previous experience with Abril's acting was in Between Your Legs. In that film, she was but adequate; yet in this film, you can see the longing, angst, and confusion of her character. She breathes life into Lola, and you can just about believe that she is an angel working mightily to save Heaven. And then there's Cruz, in her best and most comfortable role I've seen. Not an out and out "devilish" person, Cruz stealthily manipulates everyone she comes in contact with. Every person is a potential pawn in her game. And even though she is a dark angel, she doesn't seem wholly beyond redemption.
I was disappointed with the transfers on the disc, as they fall way below expectations for the medium. First of all, there's some confusion over the video aspect ratio. According to IMDb, Don't Tempt Me was shot at 2.35:1; however, the packaging now lists the ratio as "1.85:1 Full Screen." Talk about off target! I believe the film has been changed, for some unknown reason, to 1.85:1 anamorphic, and this change, this elimination of the black bars on widescreen TVs, is what they're implying by the use of the phrase full screen. Beyond this confusion is the fact that the video is terribly washed out. The brightness is completely out of balance, leaving a whitewashed look to the film. As a result, colors are inaccurate, blacks are gray, and detail is negated. And, there's also a touch of shimmer along the way. For the audio, the Dolby Digital 2.0 track (in Spanish, with optional English subtitles, which only appear in Heaven and on Earth) is average with clear dialogue and some nice separation among the channels.
The few bonus items are irrelevant: some filmographies and trailers for Don't Tempt Me, Sunstorm, and Bone Snatcher.
Tsk. Tsk. Tsk. A well-developed plot should never be abandoned in hopes of creating a stimulating movie. Large gaps in logic do not suffice when it comes to developing intrigue and mystery. By leaving too much unanswered, you run the risk of alienating your audience. Don't Tempt Me comes very close to that moment.
I enjoyed Don't Tempt Me. It is certainly not a film with anything especially groundbreaking, but the different approach to celestial turmoil is engrossing and almost fun. Still, the disc has its problems with the video transfer and the worthless special features, so I'm not going to give this one a recommendation for either purchase or rental. Somewhere down the road, if it happens to appear on one of the 500 cable channels available, that would be the best time to sit down and see if you enjoy this film.
Don't Tempt Me has sinned. It is ordered to do three "Hail Mary"s and four laps around the cloisters.
Review content copyright © 2004 Eric Profancik; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: First Look Pictures
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
Running Time: 112 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Trailers for Don't Tempt Me, Sunstorm, and Bone Snatcher
* Official Site