Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Passion Play (2010)

Shaky Foundation, Kind of Nice Exterior
by Silence Do_nothing

     Although the last I followed pro wrestling was way back in the heyday of Andre the Giant, the twentieth century's greatest Frenchman, I can't help being intrigued by an Oscar nominated actor willing to have a match in Wrestlemania. Mickey Rourke ultimately limited it to a cameo appearance, but that he seriously considered going through with the whole thing was entertaining enough. So I decided to give Passion Play, one of his more recent movies, a try. His work in such things as The Wrestler (2008), Rumble Fish (1983), Year of the Dragon (1985), Diner (1982), The Pope of Greenwich Village (1984) and The Informers (2008) might have also influenced my choice.
     Rourke gets yet another stab at playing a seedy character (I'm surprised no casting director has seen fit to pair him with Fairuza Balk in any project), this time in an ex-junkie musician by the name of Nate Poole. He rescues angel winged beauty Lilly Luster (Megan Fox) from her involuntary place in a carnival freak show. Happy Shannon (Bill Murray), a powerful criminal at odds with Nate, also has designs on Lilly. Nate realizes that he loves her and must protect her from Happy, even if it means risking his life.
     The movie alludes to her possibly being an angel, but I saw her wings as relating more to Lilly's body image. She posses the same kind of insecurities about her looks which other women can have regardless how pretty they are. Lilly has a lower opinion of her appearance than the guys do of her. The wings are a burden she dreams of losing someday. A feature of herself which she particularly hates is what draws men to her.
     I previously knew of Megan Fox only from the Transformers live action movies. My impression from those was that she seemed indistinguishable from the actresses you might see in beer commercials. Maybe it's just a case of low expectations being easy to exceed, but she wasn't that bad in Passion Play. She was wooden in some scenes, but there were others that got across a genuine sadness. It's too much to expect her to add color to a character that was lacking depth on the page. Some actors can help hide a sub-par script. Fox is more likely to magnify it. I hold the writing and directing more responsible than her for criticisms the character deserves.
     Lilly's wings were easier to accept than the love triangle. I could somewhat understand Nate and Happy's infatuation with her. She is something beautiful in their otherwise ugly gutter world, but even so, it was too rushed to be believable. Her love for Nate was even harder to take. I can understand gratitude for saving her, but it's surprising that goodwill wasn't depleted when he practically acts the pimp by introducing her into another situation to be exploited. The movie tries to make him more worthy of her feelings through his willingness to put his life on the line for her, but I think Nate is simply reckless. If not over her, he would have found some other avenue to endanger himself.
     The only way the relationship seems plausible is from the idea of her self-loathing and low self-esteem running deep enough to make her grateful for anyone's love. Even a fairly undesirable guy like myself couldn't pull for the creepy dude getting the pretty lady when it's under circumstances like this. Their love is too dysfunctional for me to become emotionally invested in it.
     The movie's weak love story undercuts a workmanlike performance by Rourke. On the surface, he looks fine portraying the anguish of separation, but because I was unconvinced of the romance, it lacked any impact. It registers as the character feigning a greater affliction than he has, rather than Nate actually being devastated.
     Some of the film's events are jarring in their suddenness. Lilly has very reasonable suspicions of Nate, caught peering through her trailer window, but quickly drops them to allow him entrance. At one point, she desperately wants to have her wings removed, but when Nate barges in to stop the procedure she immediately shifts to gratitude for his interference. Moments like these were hard to believe.
     I am a casual fan of the look of the movie, though. It successfully mixed funky styles of different eras. There is some striking scenery towards the beginning. The criminals' outfits reminded me of the degenerates from Blue Velvet (1986). Cool knick-knacks and decorations from interiors caught my eye. But it's not like it could rival the art direction of Mad Men.
     None of the visuals were good enough to offset the work's deficiencies. The effects for Lilly's wings are a good example. They were competent, but nothing spectacular. Maybe if they had been something special, it could have presented her in a way that would have made it easier to feel the same sense of awe that Nate and Happy had for her.
     Despite its flaws, I preferred Passion Play to some generic romantic comedy. Its blemishes weren't enough to dissuade me from giving a future effort by director Mitch Glazer a look. Given that its domestic gross was listed by IMDB as $3,669 on a fourteen million dollar budget, I can't say if I will have that opportunity anytime soon.
     When the end credits rolled, my reaction wasn't "There's ninety minutes of my life I'll never get back." But it still left me feeling that maybe whether one of the lead actors can do a flying elbow drop off the turnbuckle isn't the best criteria for picking movies.

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