Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel

Original Sin (2001) * 1/2

Directed and written by Michael Cristofer from the novel "Waltz Into Darkness" by Cornell Woolrich. Photography, Rodrigo Prieto. Editing, Eric Sears. Production design, David J. Bomba. Costumes, Donna Zakowska. Music, Terence Blanchard. Produced by Denise Di Novi, Kate Guinzburg and Carol Lees. Cast: Antonio Banderas (Luis Vargas), Angelina Jolie (Julia Russell), Thomas Jane (Walter Downs/ Billy Mephisto), Jack Thompson (Alan Jordan), Allison Mackie (Augusta Jordan), Joan Pringle (Sara), Pedro Armendariz (Jorge Cortes), Cordelia Richards (Emily Russell), Gregory Itzin (Colonel Worth), Daniel Martinez (Rafael), et al. An MGM release. 116 minutes. Rated R (hot, naked sex, violence)

In the movies' sub-subgenre of mail-order brides, my favorite is "The Naked Jungle" (1954)" from the story "Leiningen versus the Ants." In 1901, Charlton Heston is a chocolate planter in a South American jungle. A mail-order bride (the delicious, classy Eleanor Parker) arrives from Louisiana,. He treats her like dirt. Traumatized when he learns that she is a widow -- therefore "used goods"-- he is about to send her back, but then a huge invasion by army ants occurs, and the bravery of the woman makes the planter appreciate her.

Another good though unsuccessful and underrated mail-order movie is Francois Truffaut's "Mississippi Mermaid" (France, 1969) with Catherine Deneuve and Jean-Paul Belmondo. It comes from the novel "Waltz into Darkness" by William Irish, the "nom de plume" of Cornell Woolrich. Many William Irish stories and novels have been made into films, including "No Man of her Own" and its French remake "I Married a Shadow." Hitchcock's "Rear Window" (1954) was a classic. Truffaut's thriller "The Bride Wore Black" (France, 1967) is solid.

"Original Sin" is a remake of "Mississippi Mermaid," and far inferior to Truffaut's opus. Set in the late 1800s, in Cuba, it stars collagen-lips queen Angelina Jolie --whose last name means "pretty" in French --a matter of opinion--and heartthrob Antonio Banderas. They both display their bodies amply and in recumbent action in bed, though sex and nudity are still this side of pay-per-view flicks.

Banderas is a partner in a thriving coffee plantation business. His co-owner is Australian thespian Jack Thompson who became known internationally some twenty years ago, in "Breaker Morant." Here he has a small part, but gives a good performance in spite of his uncertain, would-be North American accent.

I will reveal only the minimum of the plot, such as it is. Luis (Banderas,) wanting a wife -- only as a provider of progeny-- advertises in the U.S. press. Julia appears in Cuba. They meet under false pretenses. She is not the homely gal of her photograph; he is not the small wage-earner he claimed to be. And here starts the confusion of the story. If Julia is a gold-digger (and worse) what was she hoping to get from a modest employee? Or else, she knew the facts already --but if this is explained in the movie, I missed it.

Never mind. They marry within hours. "L'amour fou" (mad love) explodes instantly. It is so strong for Luis that when con-girl Julia proceeds with criminal and grand-theft acts, the man still pants after her. Terrible things happen, yet there's a tacked-on happy ending followed by an awful song in the end-credits.

The movie defies logic, credibility, continuity, editing, geography, the calendar, taste and "tutti quanti." It cries out not only for Hitchcock (even the Hitch of "Marnie" and its false identities) but for an acceptable sub-Hitch. The story as well as the characters are indifferent and/or improbable. So are most of the scenes (including bordellos, card-playing and cheating, violence that should leave corpses but does not, etc.) Confusion reigns. False mustaches are blatantly fake, as is the script.

The pacing drags, makes the film soporific. The jerky cutting, at the expense of common or even uncommon sense fatigues you. The writer-director and the cinematographer must have spent more energy in fancy angles and camera movements than in making sense of the tale or in working on the main characters. There are also many signs of editing down to about two hours, with, perhaps crucial scenes or sequences littering the cutting-room floor. The studio must have known much of this, since they twice postponed the movie's opening in the last several months.

The shooting was in Mexico which supplied the best aspects, namely the architecture of the sets and an interesting, effective use of lighting by pre-electricity sources such as candles. At last, something good to say about this picture!

Copyright © Edwin Jahiel

Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel