When I heard about the overwhelming critical rejection of Passion Play after it premiered at the 2010 Toronto Film Festival, my morbid curiosity kicked in. Consequently, I wasted an hour and a half of my life watching one of the lousiest movies ever made. Mickey Rourke and Megan Fox star in this ridiculous pile of dross, a dismal fantasy drama which came out on Blu-Ray last month.
When Passion Play screened at TIFF, movie critics were practically fleeing the theater en mass. Now I understand why. That Rourke would be a part of this film is a mystery, but then again, he has a habit of making random career decisions. The bigger mystery is that comedic genius Bill Murray would take on a co-starring role and actually deliver his cringe-worthy lines with a straight face. Megan Fox rounds out a small cast, and her lousy acting is hardly noticeable given the general crapitude of the film.
Mitch Glazer is responsible for this cinematic disaster. Better known as the scribe behind some solid movie hits like 1988’s Scrooged (which starred Murray), The Recruit and modernized classic Great Expectations, Passion Play was Glazer’s directorial debut. He also wrote the script, and no doubt his intimacy with the project led to some short-sightedness. At least, that’s the kindest version of events I can guess at. The truth is that the script is terrible, the story ridiculous, the dialogue stagnant, and the long interludes of slow jazz both tedious and dated.
Hamburger-faced Rourke plays Nate, a down-on-his-luck jazz trumpet player who works in a seedy club owned by a sinister gangster named Happy (Murray). Nate’s life is in forfeit after he sleeps with the boss’ wife, and he’s taken into the desert to be killed execution style. Strangely, a gang of white-robed Indians run in and shoot Nate’s executioner, then promptly run away without any explanation.
Nate wanders through the desert looking for a payphone and comes across a carnival complete with a freak show and a charismatic carny named Sam (Rhys Ifans). Drawn to the sideshow, Nate wanders through its many oddities until he comes to a sight that holds him mesmerized. An angel stands behind the glass, a beautiful woman with real angel wings named Lily (Fox); a sad captive who is used to being put on display.
Nate follows Lily to her trailer, and against all odds the sexy freak with wings lets him in. Not only that, she ends up running away with him. Nate sees an opportunity to get his life back and make a little money by offering his new-found angel to Happy in trade for his life and a cut of the proceeds. Of course he falls in love with Lily along the way, as the two bond over being freakish outsiders.
I’m not sure what aspect of this film to start complaining about first. There’s the “cheap” look and feel of it, due in large part to ample use of green screen backgrounds and staged settings. During the desert scenes, you can practically make out the Styrofoam boulders. Then there’s the incredibly poor CGI. Lily’s wings are completely computer generated, and it’s not only obvious but also distracting. The effects quality is on par with made-for-TV-movie effects, from the amateurish animation to Lily’s flying scenes. The wires are practically visible, and there’s no way in hell even a 3-year-old would think she was actually flying through the air. Every time she “flew” I couldn’t help but to laugh hysterically.
Next, let’s discuss casting. Rourke looks the part of a loser jazz bum and then some. His face looks like a rubber mask held too close to the fire, and yet his character is getting laid left and right. Not only that, but we are supposed to believe that the rabidly hot Fox, as Lily, is not only attracted to him but sexually aroused. I cringed during their awkward sex scene (yes, there was one, all bare skin and wings). It was next to impossible to accept the Rourke/Fox pairing. Their romance didn’t “fly” either, and came across forced and on the perverted side.
Fox’s performance reinforced my belief that she simply can’t act. She usually plays the sassy, sexy type, which I’m not sure is much of a stretch for her. Even so, even at her best she’s a lightweight. In this role she is supposed to be innocent, sweet and vulnerable…let’s say angelic. To say she couldn’t pull it off is a gross understatement. She came across almost mentally impaired.
Murray’s participation in this cinematic travesty had me the most surprised. I’ve seen him tackle some dramatic roles, and bring an intriguing subtle humor to them. But to take on the role of mob boss Happy has me baffled. Murray was the best thing about this film, but that’s not saying much. Even he couldn’t save it, and his performance succumbed to the embarrassing dialogue and situational awkwardness.
There’s some religious allegory thrown in, but it’s done so unsuccessfully that it comes across as a few non-cohesive flashes of Christian iconography. Lily is an angel that can’t fly (unless there’s a strong breeze), and Nate is a man who’s lost his way. Together they suffer through all these trials and tribulations…but the only ones really suffering are the audience.
As for Blu-Ray goodies, this one has none. That’s right. And I guess it’s not a huge surprise given the reception of the film. It does have a trailer, if you can count that as an extra.
Visuals weren‘t too bad, and it’s a mostly solid transfer. There are some colorful scenes and well-composed moments, especially of Lily in display behind glass or in a glass cage, and the high def images do them justice. The cheap CGI is done no favors though. Colors come through well enough, and contrast is high.
The audio rates a few points below the video, with some nice full sound to the musical interludes of slow jazz. The musical score in the film sounded somewhat anachronistic and dated, and the long intervals of soft jazz and lighting as Nate opens up to Lily were tedious. Ambient sounds weren’t overwhelming, and the soft, meandering music didn’t interfere with the dialogue noticeably (though some may wish it did).
Passion Play had me laughing in horrified disbelief at the audacity of Glazer and co. to pass this “movie” off as fine cinema. This is one of those films that will leave you with a semi-queasy feeling both of embarrassment and outrage. It’s a vapid sequence of oddities meant to be artistic and metaphorical, but reaching only awkwardly pretentious. If you come across the Blu-Ray of Passion Play, do yourself a favor and keep walking.
Passion Play is a horrible film. The ridiculous story, unrealistic romance, amateurish CGI and awkward pacing make this a film that you should steer clear of.