Original Sin

Here's a boo for untruth in film promotion, aimed at the ad for the MGM turkey Original Sin starring Angelina (pillow lips) Jolie and Antonio (laser eyes) Banderas, and featuring a blurb above my name saying, "Two sexy stars steam up the screen." Now, maybe you'd like to hear the rest of that sentence, which goes, "...but they can't obscure the sins of the script." Forget steam, it would take a blowtorch to burn off the "laughably bad" dialogue perpetrated by director Michael Cristofer, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright (The Shadow Box), who is now churning out crap like this and 1999's vile Body Shots.

Still, I owe Cristofer an apology. I saw Original Sin in January (like most troubled movies, its release has suffered several delays) with a temp score and without editing tweaks. Since my review reflected that early version, I returned to see the final approved Sin with a theater full (well, a tenth full) of paying customers. So, OK, the film — with a bongo-driven, brain-numbing score by Terence Blanchard — did move a little faster. But why kid ourselves? It's still the same slow-witted slog with flaws, as I wrote, "that no cosmetics can hide."

Pop culture has so infiltrated our thinking that no sooner do you hear that Angelina Jolie is doing nude scenes in a film set in the 1880s than you think: How is she going to hide those Billy Bob tattoos? As it is, makeup is the least of the problems plaguing Original Sin, an erotic thriller with flaws no cosmetics can hide. The film aspires to Hitchcock — it's adapted from the novel Waltz Into Darkness, by Cornell Woolrich, who wrote the master's Rear Window — but it comes off like one of those soft-core Red Shoe Diaries flicks you see on cable TV. It was on cable that writer-director Michael Cristofer first collaborated with Jolie, to far better advantage, on Gia.

Here, the actress plays Julia Russell, a mystery woman from Delaware who arrives in Cuba as the mail-order bride of Luis Antonio Vargas (Antonio Banderas), a complete stranger. Luis is shocked that Julia doesn't look like the plain Jane in the photo she sent ahead. And Julia has no idea that Luis is the wealthy owner of a coffee-export business. Or so she claims. Most husbands would ask questions about that trunk his wife won't open and those scars on her back and that American detective, Walter Downs (Thomas Jane), who keeps hanging around. But Luis is distracted. Hell, he's got Lara Croft in his bed. Jolie, perhaps making up for the sexless Tomb Raider, turns on the heat to the limits of the film's R rating. And Banderas, freed from the family-fun constraints of Spy Kids, looks interested, very interested. But the whodunit plot keeps interfering with the boffings. She runs away, he follows her. Money is lost, reputations are ruined. And the stars spout mouthfuls of laughably bad dialogue from Cristofer, a Pulitzer winner for his play The Shadow Box. Prizes, this time, are not in the picture.

From The Archives Issue 875: August 16, 2001