CHICAGO – “Drinking Buddies” director Joe Swanberg’s latest release of the same star wattage is “Happy Christmas,” an even lower-fi story than the Olivia Wilde beer comedy, steered even more by the casting that it was able to assemble. However, with this movie Swanberg doesn’t so much worry about having a story that could be confused with a more mainstream romantic comedy if it were to have a bigger budget.
Mickey Rourke, Megan Fox Sleepwalk Through ‘Passion Play’
CHICAGO – Mickey Rourke must be a publicist’s nightmare. In the last few weeks, he’s been going around giving refreshingly honest reviews of his new film “Passion Play,” co-starring Megan Fox, Bill Murray, and Kelly Lynch and opening in New York and Los Angeles today, May 6th, 2011. He went as far as to call the film “terrible,” which might make viewers even more curious before this thing hits DVD at the end of this month. Is it THAT bad? Would Mickey lie to you?
From the very opening scenes, including a slo-mo shot of an eagle as our hero Nate Poole (Rourke) is about to get a bullet in the back, one can tell that “Passion Play” is simply incompetently made. It’s not just the fact that it wallows in cliches almost like someone was trying to win a contest in doing so but even those cliches aren’t presented with any filmmaking skill. From the cheesy score to the nonsensical plot to the half-asleep performances, “Passion Play” is a snooze, never crossing into that “so-bad-it’s-good” territory and, instead, lying in the much-more-painful category of just BAD.
Photo credit: Image
After Poole is saved from execution, he wanders until he finds a carnival in the middle of nowhere. A ringleader (Rhys Ifans) ushers Poole into a world of fire-eaters, freaks, and, of course, a lovely lady who can save our lost protagonist. One of the sideshow attractions happens to be a gorgeous creature named Lily (Megan Fox), who comes off as stripper and savior at the same time. If the symbolism isn’t resonant enough for you, Lily literally has wings. She’s a sex object fallen from heaven — every lost man’s dream come true — and, of course, Nate has to save her.
To do so, he’ll have to keep both of them away from gangster Happy Shannon (Bill Murray, doing a favor for director Mitch Glazer, who wrote “Scrooged” for the star). You see, in those opening scenes, it was Happy who had ordered the execution of Mr. Poole after the musician slept with his wife, and now he wants Lily all for himself. A questionable protagonist, the girl who can save him, and the man who stands in the way. We’ve seen this movie at least a hundred times and, despite some potential in concept and cast, “Passion Play” offers nothing new or worthwhile.
The idea of a lost man literally finding an angel in the desert has surreal potential. The problem is that the writer of “The Recruit,” making his directorial debut here, doesn’t know how to do surreal. He throws in a slow-motion shot every now and then and overplays his score, but too much of “Passion Play” is played straight. Lily needed to be an object of desire and redemption but Fox is too boring for that complex a role. Nate needed to be someone we cared about not merely someone we followed, but Rourke was clearly out of love with the project long before he started bashing it in the press. He’s simply lazy here. And one can’t really blame him.
Photo credit: Image
No one in “Passion Play” appears to have been on the same page artistically — something that can be blamed completely on the director’s inability to find a consistent tone. Rourke plays a variation on his “Barfly” persona. Ifans seems to be the only one who knew to chew the scenery. And Fox, well, as lovely as she may be, it’s clear now that she really has only one speed and it wasn’t the right one for this quirky material. Glazer has ZERO grip on the tone. Is it a noir, a fable, something that should be taken seriously? When Lily goes to a plastic surgeon to remove her wings and says, through tears, “I can be like all the other girls” is it supposed to be literal? Dreamlike? Surreal? Funny? It’s none of the above (well, it’s mostly funny, but I think that’s unintentional). It’s just one of many scenes that should provoke nothing but quizzical looks from audience members, assuming they haven’t walked out yet.
The tone changes aren’t as damaging as the fact that it’s simply impossible to care about anything that’s happening in “Passion Play.” Rourke and Fox have zero chemistry (and it’s not even clear that they should considering he’s basically using her to save his own ass) and Murray is miscast and ineffective, despite stealing the movie simply by virtue of being the most talented cast member. And the end…I can’t really put into words the sheer awfulness of the ending. It almost pushes the film into territory shared by “The Room” and “Birdemic” in the category of so-bad-you-need-to-see-it.
On paper, the story of an angel falling to the life of a near-dead musician sounds like it should, at the very least, be intriguing. Angels, pimps, musicians, Mickey Rourke, and Bill Murray?!?! Sign me up. It’s nearly remarkable how many promising ingredients were wasted in this dull soup of a film. There’s one lesson to learn here — When the star himself is advising you to stay away, you should probably listen.