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With: Antonio Banderas, Angelina Jolie, Thomas Jane, Jack Thompson, Gregory Itzin, Allison Mackie, Joan Pringle, Cordelia Richards
Written by: Michael Christofer, based on the novel "Waltz Into Darkness" by Cornell Woolrich
Directed by: Michael Cristofer
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexual content and some violence
Running Time: 112
Date: 07/11/2001
IMDB

Original Sin (2001)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Sin-seless

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Michael Cristofer's new Original Sin is based on a 1947 novel called Waltz Into Darkness by one of my favorite authors, Cornell Woolrich. Woolrich (1903-1968) was a pulp writer in the rawest sense. He didn't write about detectives like Hammett and Chandler did, and he wasn't as fancy as James M. Cain.

But he understood the desperate class, the scoundrels, and the wasted, and he wrote about them with a desperate, cracked two-bit poetry. So the only thing Original Sin really had to do was live up to the source material; in other words, be a pulpy B-movie, unpretentious and nasty. But it doesn't quite get there.

Cristofer approaches the whole thing as if he were trying to guess what a movie like this should look like rather than simply deciding for himself.

The story begins with a rich Cuban coffee plantation owner called Luis (Antonio Banderas) who sends for an American mail order bride. She arrives, and Luis is taken aback by her beauty. She claims that she sent a false picture in order to cover up her good looks. Luis replies by admitting that he covered up the fact that he was rich. Her name is Julia (Angelina Jolie), and her response is, "Now we have something in common. Neither of us can be trusted."

That much is true. Before long, we discover that Julia is a con artist who took the place of the real mail-order bride on the boat over from America.

One morning Luis discovers her -- and most of his money gone. Thomas Jane plays a detective who arrives to hunt for Julia after she's fled, and he may or may not have secrets of his own.

We can see the bare bones of Woolrich's story and how it might have worked in some other incarnation (Francois Truffaut also filmed this novel in 1969 as Mississippi Mermaid.) But Cristofer doesn't seem to have a clue how to balance it all out. He almost inadvertently gives away chunks of secret plot at the strangest moments, thereby keeping any suspense at a lull.

The picture takes place in photogenic Havana and other parts of Cuba, (it even features a soundtrack packed with hot Cuban tunes) and it has the opportunity to be gorgeous. But Cristofer drenches everything in a kind of yellow metallic echo, as if the movie was canned. He shifts to slow motion when he thinks things need an emotional pickup, and even resorts to cutting a few images away from their rightful sync-sound counterparts.

But, hey, this is a movie called Original Sin with two of the prettiest actors in the world supposedly cavorting naked with each other. Those hoping to get at least that much for their buck will not be disappointed. Jolie has a way of using her lips as a seductive device that will leave most mortals weak.

This movie offers plenty of skin, and in fact, offers quite a bit of what Tomb Raider fans were secretly hoping to see from Lara Croft earlier in the summer. (If we could cut certain footage from the two films together, we might have our first real summer blockbuster!)

While I'm certainly not opposed to a little steam now and then, Cristofer (who directed Jolie's cable hit Gia) once again doesn't understand the core of his material. He presents it like one of those late-night HBO softcore flicks that tries to be "artistic" and fails miserably, but no one cares because it delivers the skin.

I'd much rather see a movie that embraces its B-ness and gives us a blatant show of sex, violence, seduction, mystery and suspense. Original Sin is too cowardly to accept what it really is, and it fails miserably at what it's trying to be.

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