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Fallen

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4


*Also starring: Donald Sutherland, Embeth Davidtz, James Gandolfini, Robert Joy, Aida Turturro, Elias Koteas, Allelon Ruggiero



Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Two cops discover a dead body in a bathtub. One says to the other, "He had no friends and no family," to which the other responds, "Then why is he dead?" That modest gag constitutes just about the only humor in "Fallen," a deadly serious movie that combines the police and horror genres in a complicated--some would say convoluted--plot that deals with some mighty large philosophic issues. Those metaphysical concerns center on the nature of good and evil and even the meaning of existence. John Hobbes (Denzel Washington) even asks his partner and fellow detective Jonesy (John Goodman), "Why are we here?" If that's not especially original, it signals the film's lofty inquiry, not the sort of stuff generally treated in a Hollywood studio movie.

"Fallen" might easily be considered a parable of good and evil, particularly the struggle each of us has with these two qualities with which we'll born, assuming our name is not Mother Teresa. Those of us whose souls are heavy with goodness will probably not succumb to greed; those infested with evil will be wind up in jail or worse. If "Fallen" were an Everyman story, writer Nicholas Kazan (best known for his script to "Reversal of Fortune") and director Gregory Hoblit (formerly at the helm of "Primal Fear") are positioning Detective Hobbes as a combination of good and evil immersed in the struggle between the two, Gretta Milano (Embeth Davidtz) as a professor of theology who is all-good; and Edgar Reese (Elias Koteas) as evil incarnate.

Borrowing from such horror, police, and sci-fi thrillers as "Seven," "The Exorcist" and "The X-Files," director Hoblit uses Hobbes to narrate the tale, a story of the time, the cop tells us, that he almost died; and is in effect a flashback to a troubled time in a Pennsylvania police precinct. In an over- the-top prelude, Edgar Reese is about to be executed in the gas chamber. Agreeing to make a videotaped documentary in which his arresting officer Hobbes meets with him hours before, Reese extends his hand to Hobbes and mumbles what appears to be gibberish but turns out to be a 2,000-year old language combining Syrian with Aramaic. He goes to his death singing the Stones' "Time is On My Side," a song which can be taken literally and which is sung by a number of people throughout the two-hour film. When other bodies are found in bathtubs, Hobbes conducts an investigation which leads him into the world of the occult, taking him to a cabin in which a decorated officer apparently shot himself some thirty years back and as well to that cop's daughter, Gretta (Embeth Davidtz), who portentously warns Hobbes to walk away from the case.

"Fallen" features scenes in a police station and in Hobbes' home that give us insight into the life of this obsessed man, providing realistic dialogue among detectives and a touch of sentimentality as we watch Hobbes' loving relationship with his brother Art (Gabriel Casseus) and his cute nephew Sam (MIchael J. Pagan).

Since "Fallen" is so derivative of similar movies, little occurs that is unexpected. Many moviegoers will predict the twist that occurs near the conclusion and which seems to foretell at least one sequel to the movie. What makes the film particularly worth watching is the magnetic presence of Denzel Washington as a good guy who had recently given up smoking (winning himself points in that eternal human struggle between the forces of purity and wickedness) but who replaces the weed with chewing gum (making him lose a percentage of those points). The picture, at two hours, is longer than it should be, particularly since it is not freighted with the twists and turns that keep an audience at the edge of their seats. On the whole it's too serious, even pompous, for its own good. The acting all-around is fine, with professional performances by John Goodman and Donald Sutherland and an authoritative turn by Embeth Davidtz as the somber professor who is ironically too good to touch.

Copyright 1998 Harvey Karten

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