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Playing God

movie review out of 4 Movie Review: Playing God

Starring: David Duchovny, Timothy Hutton
Director: Andy Wilson
Rated: R
RunTime: 94 Minutes
Release Date: October 1997
Genres: Action, Suspense, Thriller

*Also starring: Michael Massee, Angelina Jolie

Review by MrBrown
1½ stars out of 4

Buena Vista's press synopsis for Playing God labels the film "an intense thriller," and never have publicity notes been more helpful: after watching this aimless oddity, I could not get a handle what exactly the film is, and, based on the mess onscreen, the filmmakers themselves did not seem to have a clue, either.

Playing God starts out like a thriller, with our hero, aimless junkie Eugene Sands (David Duchovny), performing some nifty impromptu surgery on a shooting victim in a seedy L.A. nightclub. That grisly scene is followed by a more straight dramatic one, when we are offered a glimpse into Eugene's troubled past: he was once a surgeon, but he was stripped of his medical license after doing some fatal work on a patient while under the influence of amphetamines. Things then shift into a more comedic gear with the entrance of counterfeiter Raymond Blossom (Timothy Hutton), who, impressed with Eugene's spontaneous and skillful show of surgical savvy, takes a reluctant Eugene under his wing as a highly-paid on-call doctor who illegally "fixes" his criminal associates after they get themselves into bloody mishaps. And whenever Eugene's surgical gigs take center stage, the film takes a more blackly comic route.

When thriller-like double-crosses by Eugene, Raymond's girlfriend Claire (Angelina Jolie), and an FBI agent (Michael Massee) come into the picture, it becomes quite clear that no one involved in Playing God, much less director Andy Wilson or writer Mark Haskell Smith, has a real grasp on what exactly the film is all about. Not only is the film's mood and flow of events all over the map, but without any focused direction, all of the players attack the material from wildly different angles. Duchovny maintains a Fox Mulder-type balance of deadpan sarcasm and seriousness throughout; the pouty Jolie is stiffly earnest; and Massee and especially Hutton seemed to have wandered in from the broad comedy next door. I suppose the original intent of Playing God was to be a neo-noir with a gloss of postmodern hipness, something hinted at by Eugene's coolly detached and "ironic," if pointless, voiceover narration. But any discernable intentions are lost in the swirl of clashing ideas and sensibilities.

"A game with no rules" reads the tagline for Playing God, which can best be described as "a film with no rules": a peculiar star vehicle for X-Files sensation Duchovny that meanders within the territory of comedy, drama, thriller, and just about anything under the cinematic sun with very little rhyme and no apparent reason at all.

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