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Original Sin

movie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Original Sin

Starring: Antonio Banderas, Angelina Jolie
Director: Michael Cristofer
Rated: R
RunTime: 112 Minutes
Release Date: August 2001
Genres: Erotica, Suspense

*Also starring: Thomas Jane, Pedro Armendariz Jr., Allison Mackie, Joan Pringle, Jack Thompson

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
½ star out of 4

For "Original Sin," the road to the screen has been rocky. Initially slated for release last November, the film was bumped twice, finally landing in the dog days of summer 2001. Advance screenings of the film were denied to all but a few critics, generally a sign that the studio realizes it has a dud on its hands. So is "Original Sin" really all that bad?

Yes it is, but the melodrama does offer some rewards. The location settings are gorgeous and there is a healthy sprinkling of T&A (with Angelina Jolie providing the "T" and Antonio Banderas the "A"). More importantly, the movie is entertainingly bad. Veteran readers know that, as a rule, I don't encourage people to patronize lousy films. Most of the time, there are plenty of quality offerings on the marketplace that are more deserving of our money and besides, the "let's go laugh at the failings of others" mindset reflects an elitism that makes me uncomfortable.

But things are different this summer. Quality films, to put it mildly, have been few and far between, so as far as I'm concerned, it's fair to find our kicks where we may. "Original Sin" will never join such treasures as "Valley of the Dolls," "Road House" and "Showgirls" in the Bad Movie Hall of Fame, but it'll do until something worse comes along.

The film, adapted by director Michael Cristofer from the Cornell Woolrich novel, "Waltz into Darkness" (which was also the source for the 1969 Francois Truffaut film, "Mississippi Mermaid"), opens in a turn-of-the-century prison, as Jolie's character, slated for a dawn execution, tells her lurid tale to a priest who appears desperately horny. The freshman writing class tone is quickly established when she says things like, "This is not a love story, it is a story about love."

Wary of local gold-diggers, Cuban coffee dealer Luis Antonio Vargas (Banderas) makes arrangements to secure a mail order bride from America, listing himself as a mere clerk to dissuade foreign gold-diggers. A practical man, Luis chooses a frumpy looking lady, hoping she will be a loyal mate able to provide him with children. Imagine his surprise when his fiancée, Julia Russell (Jolie), turns out to be infinitely more attractive than the woman in the photo.

Julia explains that she sent a different woman's image because she didn't want to be selected solely for her pretty face. Luis then confesses his deception, leading Julie to state, with great significance, "We have something in common, We are both not to trusted."

After their wedding, Luis and Julia retire for a glorious night of carefully choreographed lovemaking, with their bodies positioned to display her breasts and his bottom as erotically as possible. Jolie and Banderas are attractive people and watching them naked is fun, although the filmmakers' insistence on using one of Banderas' legs to cover Jolie's crotch makes it look like he's trying to climb her.

Luis, the stupidest man who ever lived, immediately instructs the bank to make his personal and business accounts available to Julia, despite the fact that she seems nothing like the woman with whom he corresponded. His blissful ignorance continues as the warning signs mount up. Luis must force Julia to write to her sister Emily, who is frantic over her lack of communication. Shortly after Julia complains about the chirping of a pet bird, it is found on the floor of its cage with a broken neck. Finally, when she cleans out his accounts and disappears, Luis begins to suspect that something might be wrong.

Incidentally, if you're afraid I'm giving too much away, rest assured that all of this happens in the first 30 minutes of the movie, leaving plenty of time for numerous dopey plot twists, a great deal of operatic acting and more footage of her tits and his ass.

Along the way, private detective Walter Downs (played by Thomas Jane, who was terrific as Mickey Mantle in the HBO movie "61*") turns up, hired by the frumpy woman's sister to find out what happened to the real Julia. Luis is also eager for the detective to track down the con artist, having decided that if he can't have her, he will kill her. Oh, the pathos of it all.

The cast appears to recognize the trashiness of the story, adjusting their performances accordingly. Banderas is suitably impassioned, while Jolie alternates between vamping and pouting (and with those lips, she can really pout). As for Thomas Jane, he starts off acting suspicious and cagey, then accelerates to a Snidely Whiplash level of nastiness. His most startling moment comes when, to prove his power to humiliate, he forces Luis against a wall, verbally taunts him while rubbing his cheeks against those of Luis and then finishes establishing his dominance with a full-on kiss. If anyone ever questions the difference between sex and rape, show them this chilling scene.

And if anyone ever questions the difference between real drama and a laughable potboiler, show them "Original Sin."

Copyright © 2001 Edward Johnson-Ott

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