Monday, June 6, 2011

"Passion Play" lacks passion and a pulse

Passion Play (2011)
94 min., rated R.
Grade: D +

"Passion Play" resists being interesting, or good, or using its potential of being an instant cult classic, since it's so devoid of energy, passion, and a dramatic arc. So earnestly played, mawkishly sentimental, and bizarre, this noir fable/love story is, if anything, a curiosity piece. Playing another sozzled, craggy damaged soul, Mickey Rourke mumbles through his role as Nate Poole, a downtrodden jazz trumpeter who after being left for dead by a gangster's henchman stumbles onto the grounds of a carnie-freak circus. There, in search of a telephone, he wanders into the lit, glass booth of Lily, a knockout angel (Megan Fox). She literally has wings. Nate whisks Lily away from her imprisonment and the two go on the lam (Lily spreading her wings, literally). But when Nate has a run-in with Happy Shannon (Bill Murray), the gangster that ordered him assassinated, he offers his angel over to him instead of his own head. As long as Happy keeps Lily, Nate will not be harmed, but the gentle giant and the angel are meant to be together. Will Nate get Lily back? Will Lily be able to fly away with Nate? Does it really matter? 

Establishing his directorial debut, screenwriter Mitch Glazer's film is heavy-handed, overly literal, and ultimately ridiculous. Written as a fable but directed as a dreamlike soap opera, the film fails under the weight of its own ambitions. None of "Passion Play" is treated metaphorically and all of it's taken doggone seriously, but it's hard for anyone watching it to do the same. It's no fault of Rourke's performance, but perhaps he's just miscast. The supposedly heated sex scene between Mr. Rourke, Miss Fox, and her CGI wings is icky, not romantic. As for Fox, at least she's choosing more obscure projects and was perfectly fine in 2009's misunderstood "Jennifer's Body, but still purses her lips most of the time in lieu of bringing believability to Lily's hurt vulnerability. Under the name "Happy Shannon," Murray makes the best of the role. Kelly Lynch, Glazer's wife, is fine as Nate's stripper best friend Harriet, but not really given much to work with. Even Christopher Doyle's flat, gauzy cinematography is compounded by Glazer's leaden pacing. Had David Lynch or some other accomplished filmmaker helmed this material, it might've worked, but as so, it's as much of an embarrassing misfire as Jennifer Lynch's "Boxing Helena." Just less interesting, even on the basis of unintentional laughter.

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