Image Entertainment // 2010 // 94 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron (Retired) // June 8th, 2011
Love is Stronger Than Death
They say that love is blind. That must mean that more than a few labors of same are lost in their own blinkered lack of perspective. Many artists, fascinated with and fixated on their own vision, make the mistake of becoming overly enamored with themselves, cutting off any possibility of collaboration or correction. Sometimes, the unrealized dream can come up trumps, as with Richard Rush's amazing ten years in the making masterpiece The Stunt Man. In other instances, the joke is on those who finally acquiesced to the obsessive's belligerent beliefs. This was clearly the case with Mitch Glazer and the recent festival fiasco Passion Play. Reportedly, he's been sitting on this particular script for nearly 20 years. He should have never gotten up. What wants to be an ephemeral fable about regret and redemption ends up an incomprehensible mess where the meaning gets lost within the filmmaker's unfiltered insularity. It's bad. It's boring. And it's clearly blind to its own awfulness.
Nate Poole (Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler) was a famous jazz trumpeter who is now a down on his lucky recovering (?) junkie. He is also in deep Dutch with local mobster Happy Shannon (Bill Murray, Lost in Translation) for sleeping with his wife. One night, he is kidnapped and taken out to the desert to be executed. Instead, a twist of fate allows him to live. Soon, Nate is wandering into a traveling circus run by the cruel and callous Sam (Rhys Ifans, Hannibal Rising). There, he meets the sideshow freak known as "The Bird Woman" (Megan Fox, Jennifer's Body). Her real name is Lily and she appears to be an otherwise beauty young lady born with an actual pair of wings on her back. Seeing a way to get even with Happy, Nate decides to exploit this unusual find. He hopes that by splitting the money with the gangster, he can get his life back. Unfortunately, Happy becomes obsessed with Lily and cuts our hero out of the profit picture completely. Even worse, Nate has now fallen in love with Lily and will do anything to get her back. Anything.
Let me repeat...Hmmm...
What can you say about Passion Play? What good can you say about this sloppy, sometimes incoherent parable? Yes, it's as dull as the finish on an junkyard station wagon. Yes, it wastes the talents of all involved-including carnal Cupie Doll Megan Fox who actually shows some serious chops here. No, it doesn't really matter that writer/director Mitch Glazer made his name with Mr. Mondo Michael O'Donoghue from Saturday Night Live or helped co-script the now-beloved Bill Murray holiday farce Scrooged. He's a billion miles away from such blackly comic beginnings. One critic called this a David Lynch homage made by someone who has never seen a frame of the famed auteur's work, and there is some truth in said take. Of course, Mr. Eraserhead would never indulge in such dopey drone dramatics as what's offered here. What Passion Play really is, however, is a soulless, heartless shadow, a mere specter of cinema that can't stand up to scrutiny, explanation, or interpretation. When you try to scratch beneath the surface, all you get is the aroma of failed ambitions.
Frankly, it's hard to see how this could ever work. The notion of a man using an angel -- or some other manner of human/supernatural oddity -- as a means of making sense of his life is nothing short of narrative snake oil. It's a ruse, a ridiculous reminder that, sometimes, an idea should be allowed to die a natural-andquick-death. Since Glazer has no insights to offer, since he's not going to make Fox's existence mean anything (other than a device for a tacky twist ending), she's motivationally inert. One moment she's on display in a sideshow, the next she's bumping post-plastic surgery uglies with Rourke. Then, she's holed up with Murray making cow eyes. Then she's back on display in a private gentleman's club. None of it matters. None of it alludes to anything else. Everything exists solely to give the next scene a reason to exist. While they may sound like proper screenplay etiquette, it's actually the opposite. It's mechanical and mind-numbing.
As for the performances, there's not much to mention. Murray is trying to channel his inner suave thug and more or less fails, while Ifans' extended cameo feels like a trailer trash version of same. A decidedly manly looking Kelly Lynch (former '90s hottie and Glazer's current wife) sits around in her bra and panties and talks on the phone while Bud Cort and Rory Cochrane join the "blink and you'll miss them" club. As for Rourke, he is lost. Making direct to VHS dreck in the early '90s lost. Wondering where all his Oscar nominated Wrestler juice went to lost. The only way to explain his work here is to imagine he misread the title page of the script, thinking it was actually called Passive Play. To give you an indication of how non-existent he is, there is a sequence where his character prepares to have sex with a slutty tattooed lady and gets shot up with a dose of heroin. As he tries to play high, you realize something -- this is what Rourke has been doing the entire running time: he is motionless, disconnected, and barely alert. Only Fox finds the right balance between sympathy and stillness. We do feel for her plight, if only a little.
With its obvious greenscreen backdrops, unexplained contrivances (Ninja Native Americans???), and complete lack of competence as either entertainment or art, Passion Play crash lands with the kind of thud reserved for elephant dung. Because it is so much about Glazer and his vision, because the man obviously couldn't see beyond what he thought was an intriguing and inventive idea, the film leaves the rest of us out in the faked snow cold. Again, it's hard to imagine this concept ever working. You need a deft touch, better casting, and a helluva lot more insights to make magic out of manure. Even the Blu-ray packaging is perfunctory. The 1080p 2.40:1 is colorful but also capable of exposing the film's low budget leanings. This is especially true of any F/X sequence. Similarly, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 might do the music and dialogue justice, but Glazer adds little to justify the expanded sonic spectrum. Image clearly felt so little enthusiasm for this motion picture pariah it could only manage a trailer as the sole piece of added content. Talk about broaching bare bones!
Bombs don't get much more brazen than this lackadaisical excuse for an experience. Clearly, writer/director Glazer was oblivious to the titanic crap he was about take and decided to do it in full viewer of an unwary moviegoing audience. The good news? The festival crowd got whiff of its worthlessness early on, dooming its chances of invading most of the mainstream populace. For many film fans, Passion Play will be remembered alongside such other laughable misfires as Lady in the Water, Southland Tales, and An Alan Smithee Film: Burn, Hollywood Burn. The one thing these all have in common? The misguided hubris of the person pulling the strings. In the case of this ersatz religious ridiculousness, an unbelievable level of blindness applies as well.
Guilty. A groan-inducing mess.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R