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Toronto 2010: Little passion for 'Passion Play'

September 11, 2010 | 11:18 am

Passionplay_01 

Sometimes everything seems to be in place -- the crowds are there, the stars are arriving, there is an air of expectation and excitement -- but that can all change once the actual movie starts. Such was the case on Friday night with the world premiere of "Passion Play," the directing debut from longtime screenwriter Mitch Glazer ("Scrooged"). The expressionistic fable was received as something of a spectacular folly, made all the more crushing in that Glazer had first written it as an expression of his feelings while in the process of falling in love with his now-wife, actress Kelly Lynch.

The script has been around for some time -- Glazer noted that star Megan Fox was 3 years old when he first sold the script -- while the screenwriter held tight to the idea of directing it himself. In the film, Mickey Rourke plays a Chet Baker-ish jazz trumpeter who gets taken out to the desert by a hood. After the hood is killed off by a roving band of Native American assassins, the trumpeter wanders until he comes across a traveling carnival. There he sees a woman with wings (Fox) and immediately falls for her. After getting her away from the carnival, the pair become ensnared in the clutches of a cruel mobster (Bill Murray) who wants the woman for himself.

While it is difficult to beat up on something made with as much seemingly genuine sincerity as "Passion Play,"  it comes together in such a loopily haphazard way that it is hard to think of it as even much of a movie.

The film was shot by acclaimed cinematographer Christopher Doyle (with a credit of "additional cinematographer" to Glenn Kaplan), but here, Doyle's signature moody lighting and saturated colors just look cheap and underdone. The film's special effects are jarring, as the obvious use of green-screen -- mostly when Fox's wings are supposedly being seen outside -- repeatedly pulls the viewer out of the story.

The performers all do what they can. Rourke, seemingly having provided his own wardrobe, struggles to hold close to the human heart of the story, a down-on-his-luck somebody who finds someone else worth living for. Fox gives an uneven performance in which she never seems to have fully decided on who the actual woman is attached to those wings. If this role was intended to mark her reemergence as an actress, the story itself repeatedly insists on her being simply an object, something to be looked at rather than engaged with. Murray continues his run as a scene-stealer and arguably the movie's finest wearer of eccentric hairpieces.

For the pre-show introductions on Friday night, Glazer was joined onstage by Fox, Rourke, Murray and Lynch. But in a sign of the film's lackluster reception, for the Q&A after the movie only Glazer took to the stage. Lynch and Murray remained in their seats, while Rourke and Fox seemed to have already left. To top it off, there were almost no questions from the audience, leaving a helpless moderator to awkwardly kill time by asking Glazer mundane questions about the score. For most everyone in the room, it felt like it couldn't be over soon enough.

-- Mark Olsen

Photo: Mickey Rourke and Megan Fox in "Passion Play."  Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival.

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