OK, so we got 9 Gates, 3 books, about 15 endings, and no suspense. Johnny Depp manages to play a role with absolutely no personality whatsoever, while Frank Langella tries to be scary. The only thing scary about Frank Langella is that he sleeps with Whoopi Goldberg voluntarily.Now, I may have been suckered into believing that this movie was something that it wasn't by some misleading trailers. I admit that. I'm willing to accept that I was hoodwinked by the publicity monkeys at Artisan, and that it isn't the fault of the filmmakers. But dammit, if I go see a movie about Satan, I want to SEE Satan. Not a bunch of people arguing over a book. At least "Rosemary's Baby" had a real sense of menace in it.
"So, which character was supposed to be Satan?"
Roman Polanski's latest opus goes like this: Dean Corso (Johnny Depp) is a sneaky "book detective" who cheats rich people out of their expensive books and laughs about it with his snarky book detective friends. He's hired by Boris Badenov...um...I mean, Balkan (Frank "Makin' Whoopi" Langella) to check the authenticity of a book of his that's basically "Conjuring Satan For Dummies". There are three copies in existence; he wants to check which one's the original. Apparently, this book was co-written by Satan. (According to literary legend, William Goldman also did an uncredited rewrite, but that's neither here nor there.) So Johnny sets out to find the other two books. He travels around Europe (well, he couldn't exactly travel around America - Polanski's still on the run for that child rape back in '78) searching for the books, and SPOOKY things happen. People turn up dead. And yet...there's NO suspense!
I think the main problem with the film is Johnny Depp's completely lifeless performance. It was widely reported that Depp and Polanski weren't exactly chummy on-set, and so Johnny-boy just looks bored. This movie's supposed to be about this big journey into the depths of evil that Depp takes, but meanwhile, Johnny seems to be playing the part as the most bored man alive. "Hmmm...five more dead bodies. Hmmm...there's Satan playing the banjo on that balcony. Hmmm...I'm thirsty." By the end, when he's supposed to be changed forever by what he's seen, I didn't notice a single thing different about his behaviour.
The rest of the performances are no treat either: Frank Langella is kinda creepy, but he's off-screen for most of the movie. The Director's untalented wife plays a mysterious figure who shows up all the time, no matter how far Depp travels. Maybe she's Johnny's student loan officer. She can fly, too, and knows every single plot detail, and, in a touching and romantic scene, gets a nosebleed and wipes her snot on Depp's forehead. Is she Satan? Is Frank? Is Johnny? Am I?
Roman, you lost it. If it's supposed to be a supernatural thriller, where are the supernatural elements? If it's supposed to be a detective thriller, where's the suspense? Polanski just piles weird details on top of each other, and we're expecting a big payoff at the end, but then it ends in a big-ass whimper. It's like he spent all this time setting up some really freaky concepts, and then, instead of bringing them all together at the end, Polanski just walks on-screen, stands in the middle of the frame, and says, "Boy, that sure was creepy, wasn't it, kids? A-WOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"And Roman, stop putting your wife in your movies. She's terrible. That role could have been better played by Andre the Giant. Today. Even though he's dead.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=1730&reviewer=27
originally posted: 03/22/00 14:41:30