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STUDIO: Image Enterntainment
RUNNING TIME: 94 minutes
A down on his luck horn player wads through a swamp of pretense to find himself in ridiculous love triangle with a bird woman that can’t fly and an ironically named gangster.
Mickey Rourke, in the role of a lifetime, stars as gifted but destructive artist who’s nearing the ground in his fall from grace; Megan Fox, in a role that led to Rourke referring to the actress as “one of the best actresses of all time,” plays his aforementioned sideshow freak bird lady; and Bill Murray as Happy, a gangster and the only one having a good time.
For the first time since the Breaking Bad series four finale, I screamed obscenities at my TV–albeit far less enthusiastically.
Put simply, Mickey Rourke was right, this is a terrible, terrible film. Nothing works here. The script is plodding and pedantic, overstating every would be subtlety of its inane plot. The acting is phoned in from Rourke, effortless from Murray, and a really good try from Fox. The directing is indulgent and pretentious as Mitch Glazer, who worked on this film for a decade or two, loves this film a hell of a lot more than anyone else worked on it. It’s the type of movie that bad art film parodies parody, if only because the jokes are already written.
At the behest of his friend and director Mitch Glazer, Rourke takes one for the team as Nick Poole, a trumpet player, who after sleeping with an ironically named gangster’s wife, is led to the desert for his inevitable whacking. Yet, in what might be the last instance of good fortune the poor trumpeter may ever experience, a group of white clad, gun totting Native Americans save Poole’s pathetic life and lead him a circus in the middle of nowhere, because there’s no better place for a circus in these movies than in the middle of nowhere.
But the adventure, which we came all to close to avoiding, is just beginning. At the circus, Nick meets Lily Luster, a birdwoman sequestered in the freakshow. Poole falls for the woman and immediately gives her the gift of exploitation, promising the aforementioned gangster, Happy (Murray), a taste of the sideshow grosses, if he can lure her from the circus and onto a privately owned stage. What Nick didn’t count on, however, was that after he escaped the big top with Lily in toe, he would fall harder for the woman he looks to profit from. How romantic.
Explaining any more of this horribly static plot would only give away what hasn’t already deterred you from this film. Glazer mixes parts Coen Brothers and part Lynch into a story that aims to exist in a portion of Americana that Glazer nor his actors seem to totally understand. It attempts to rework pulp romance and surreal mystery into something as unappetizing as that description.
Unlike, say the Tarantinos, Coens, or Raimis, Glazer doesn’t realize he’s attempting to make art out of trash; he merely sees it as art. His seemingly unending layer of pretense starts as soon as you read the title. Evoking the Christ imagery of the Passion and high brow authenticity of the theater, Glazer proceeds to make an art house movie about a down on his luck horn player who falls in love with an angel. This is the type of plotting that keeps ordinary people from seeing art films. Glazer doesn’t need to throw some battling robots into his picture, but if he’s going to make a film this ridiculous, he certainly cannot take himself this seriously.
Yet, he does. Every shot circles the sky in swooping magnificence, picking up nuance of the sparse landscape that isn’t nearly as majestic or lucid as Glazer hopes. His actors follow suit. Rourke essentially steps back into his Randy the Ram tights for this one, but loses the humanity that makes a story about an aging profession wrestler far more engaging than that of the cliche money owing jazz performer. It’s not his fault, though. Glazer offers Rourke’s co-star Megan Fox absolutely no agency. She’s merely passed around from character to character in some sort of strange competition that stands in for the film’s love story. Murray seems to be the only one who gets how ridiculous the whole thing is, but his more than game playfulness is totally lost on the rest of the production. The film screams for more dimension, but Glazer never gets there.
Glazer, who also penned the script, doesn’t necessarily give them the best lines either. Each awkward reading seems a bit off as the actors struggle to find meaning in it all. In the end, Passion Play remains a painfully incoherent collage of themes, motifs, and ideas that seemingly mean nothing. By the time Glazer arrives at his disappointing and predictable finale, that statement will have more meaning than the rest of the film.
Passion Play‘s artifice looks even faker in the film’s blu-ray transfer. Each frame looks to be handled with care, but either due to budgetary restraints or misguidance on the part of the director, it comes off looking pretty weak. The film was likely abandoned as soon as it was in the can. Thus, there’s no mention of special features anywhere in the interactive menu, which stands in as a sorry tombstone for a film that went drastically wrong.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars