Slacker Movie Night: Passion Play

Some movies are good. Some movies are bad. Some movies are Nicholas Cage movies. Passion Play, however, is none of the above. It resides in that nebulous category of frustrating movies.

See, Nicholas Cage movies aren’t frustrating. They’re bad, and he’s bad in them, to be sure. Nicholas Cage fans are what is frustrating about Nicholas Cage movies. I’ve already touched on this in a previous article so I won’t go into it too much here. The point is just that ol’ Nick keeps pumping out his particular brand of shite because people keep watching it. I can’t blame studios for wanting to cash in on the idiocy of the masses. When a movie is frustrating because of it’s own content, you have something like Passion Play.

This movie frustrated me enough to blog about because it’s one of those rare movies where so much goes so wrong, you can’t really like it, but despite the flaws, you can see the germ of what could have been a really good movie. Hell, I’m still thinking about it 3 days later, so it probably could have been a great movie.

I don’t care enough to outline the plot for you. Read a synopsis elsewhere. I just want to get right into what might have been versus what was.

The greatest detriment to the movie, by my guess, is the cast. Mickey Rourke, Bill Murray, and Megan Fox fill out this little diddy, and at first glance you’re thinking Meatloaf’s Law (You know, two out of three ain’t bad. Probably misleading. Should be called Jim Steinman’s Law, but then you really wouldn’t know what I was talking about.). The Problem is that while Rourke and Murray can be powerhouses of acting when they try, you are also paying a pretty penny to get those performances. Megan Fox probably set you back a bit too, and that is certainly not worth it.

I say the actors aren’t worth the money that was spent on them for a few reasons. First of all, in Rourke’s case, the worse-for-wear, down-on-his-luck, has-been, insert other hyphenate role is one that he played to perfection in The Wrestler, and has played a few times since then. The problem: he can just phone it in. His performance isn’t bad, but it also isn’t inspired. Someone cheaper, who has a career in the same state as Rourke’s was prior to his Oscar would have been hungrier, and you could have gotten a performance as good, if not better, at a better value.

Murray does little better. He’s been doing this kind of indie fare for a decade or so now, and he does a fine job with the role he has. But, I can basically say the same thing for him as I did for Rourke.

Megan Fox rounds out the wasted money trifecta. While I’m sure she didn’t cost as much as the other two, there are better looking girls, with better acting chops, coming fresh of a canceled CW series would have wanted it more. She did try to convince us that she’s a real actress by doing a lot of crying and lip quavering in the movie, and the director really showed that off, despite not making much sense in the narrative. Even so, it’s still prematurely stretch-faced Megan Fox. You never forget that.

So why do I consider this cast wasted money, and why should that matter? Pretty simple really. The wasted money shows in the final film. According to IMDB, the budget was somewhere in the $14 million range. If less of that had gone toward actor salaries, and more towards things like filming additional sequences, working out kinks in the script, making better effects sequences since the emotional core of the film relies on them, basically, if I saw more of that money on screen in the form of production as opposed to actors wallets, the final product would have been substantially better.

There are so many glimmers of what could be a really outstanding movie here. What was filmed is a solid foundation; it’s a great idea, with a mediocre execution. I’d love to see the original script, because I have a feeling the story wasn’t as disjointed there and the cuts were just made for budgetary reasons when the time came for filming. With less money going to big name actors, they would have had the budget to film that stuff, so the movie wouldn’t be so uneven. And if that material wasn’t in the original script, saving talent funds could have given them more money for another draft to bring it all together better.

There’s one last thing that really holds the movie back. The film is bookended with these scenes that are completely useless in the world of art cinema. Any good indie director worth his salt, and looking to get a huge pop on the festival circuit, would have omitted them. By including them, you pander to the Nick Cage fanbase. You explain everything in tedious detail for the dullards so they don’t walk out complaining about how they didn’t get the movie, or that it didn’t have an ending. I won’t tell you exactly what they are or what they give away, but I will tell you that they were completely unnecessary.

The desert scene towards the beginning has 2 shots that completely telegraph the ending. I knew precisely what was happening the whole movie. The scene at the end bludgeoned me over the head with an explanation I didn’t need, presumably intended to make me gasp in amazement at something I figured out 91 minutes ago. Make the intro more subtle, trusting the nuances of the narrative throughout, and skip the revelatory shot at the end, and people would be talking about the movie, even with all the other flaws. Fix the other flaws too, and you would have had an award winner on your hands. Awards audiences like ambiguity. You spell it out needlessly, you only please Joe “I don’t like subtitles – Git ‘r done,” and he didn’t like the movie anyway.

It’s so deeply frustrating to see something that really could have been superb get all this money funneled into it, only to give me so-so results. I’ll remember it fondly, because I’ll remember the movie I put together in my head, as opposed to the one that was presented to me. There are real lessons to be learned from this kind of movie, but unfortunately the only lesson Hollywood takes from it is “Everybody likes talking animals or guy in a fat suit, let’s just stick to that.”

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