Passion Play (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
2Jun/110

Passion Play (2011)

Andrew DISLIKEImagine, if you will, the casting conferences that centered around Passion Play.

"Ok, we've got Mickey Rourke, fizzled out a bit but still hot from his turn in The Wrestler.  Who's he gonna bang?"

"Megan Fox."

"Yeah, but they already did the whole star crossed wrong side of the tracks shagging in Monster's Ball."

"Let's put Megan Fox in wings."

"Angel wings?"

"It's in the script."

Perfect, now I get to see Megan Fox slowly dry hump Mickey Rourke in a scene that plays at heavy-handed symbolism all while letting the dirty sax dip in a bit.  You know, the dirty sax, the ubiquitous "things 'bout ta get nastay" musical line that imbues any scene with an air of cheesy sensuality (most commonly heard in any number of thrillers or action movies from the 80's).

Wait, sensuality can't really be cheesy.  It kills the sensual mood of friendship, lust and touch which is the basis of sensuality.

I hate this movie with a rage growing more potent when I see the cast on display and slowly ponder how a merciful and loving God would bestow an angel on this film, let alone Bill Murray.  Bill who, I'd like to note, seems every bit as angry and disgusted that he ended up in this dreck as I am that it ended up produced and pitched at the screen at all.

I'd launch into a tirade about how this film should be a course unto itself on how not to write women characters, but that carries the implication someone was written correctly to begin with.

Passion Play is the unfortunate result of focused creative concentration that years ago went off the path of anything righteous.  The auteur behind this project, because films this misguided are rarely the work of a committee, is Mitch Glazer.  Now Mitch has been responsible for the screenplays on a few projects that I love, most notably the Alfonso Cuaron update of Great Expectations and reasonably fun entertainment like The Recruit.

But someone, somewhere, must have told him that this was not where he needed to spend his energy.  If reports are to be believed, for years he constructed the story of Nate (Mickey Rourke) a hard luck tough-guy who happens to play a little bit of jazz sax on the side.  Then he meets his angel Lily (Megan Fox), who is not a metaphor but a legitimate angel, wings and all.  Toss into the mix an ironically named gangster named Happy (Bill Murray) and you've got the cocktail for a film professors worst student-film nightmare.

The symbolism.  My God the symbolism.  For those of you that are unaware, a Passion Play is a recreation of the last moments of Jesus before he is crucified.  Allusions to this are littered throughout the film, be it Megan Foxes scarred back as she tries to rid herself of her wings or moments where red paint is framed in just the right spot over Mickey Rourke's hands to make them appear as though they are bleeding.

Lily and Nate are both set up to die for our sins and both go through a period of sacrifice and rebirth written into the plot from it's very inception.  All the while Glazer rips off a number of classic works of cinema that I regard highly (Wild Strawberries) to shoe-gazing novelties I don't quite grasp the appeal of (Paris, TX).  Shots are reconstructed so carefully and staged so specifically I kept having flashbacks, momentary lapses of joy quickly stifled when I realized Glazer was doing this intentionally.

Is there a lost innocence to cinema that has gone away?  Has Glazer come to guide us delicately back to the promised land of faith rewarded and souls set free?  No, instead he provides us instead with the worlds stupidest plastic surgeon (because we needed more symbolism) who wants to replace Lily's angelic beauty with a colder, "normalized" product.  Not that any surgeon, any doctor, any person on the street who sees someone spread their wings and float would stop for a moment and think "Gee, wonder how they did that?" or lapse into the fervent praise of a deity that finally blessed us with wings.

Cold. Hostile. Separated. No love. No tenderness. No connection. So self-descriptive. So horrifyingly on the nose for how anyone can experience this film.

It is a moment so profoundly awkward punctuated by Rourke, who has to deliver a threat to the surgeon that he will kick the doctors ass if he ever tells anyone about the wings.  He decides to deliver this speech with his back turned to the surgeon and his eyes on the ground, perhaps ashamed that these words were committed to page and now have to be given life.  You see, because natural beauty goes unnoticed and we should kick the asses of anyone who does not appreciate this.  Noble, though film and architecture show that there's beauty in the unnatural by making it natural.  Still a message I might be able to get behind.

Having the jazz singer about the winged woman to the plastic surgeon?  Not so much.

No one fares well.  Rourke is all gristle and no meat, letting his aching charm slide right past the screen and into a garbage bin somewhere.  Fox is given less to do than stand and be ogled, which for an angel must come as quite the angry surprise, but we'd never know it based on her line readings.  Then Bill?  Well, his character is left to remark "I get the angel, you get your life.  Sounds religious." without the slightest inkling that Glazer realizes how embarrassingly on the nose this line is after watching the angel and jazz player screw.

I would be angry too Bill.  I know it's been a long way since Lost In Translation, but things will get better.  They can't all be like this.

Tip.  Don't watch Passion Play.  Pick up a Bible, and stage shadow reenactments of the first interesting thing you come across.  Finding out how you'd improvise two pillars of salt is a better use of your time.

Passion Play (2011)
Written and directed by Mitch Glazer.
Starring Mickey Rourke, Megan Fox and Bill Murray.

Posted by Andrew

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