‘Original,’ but ‘Sinfully’ bad

· Aug 8, 2001 Tweet

To say “Original Sin” is another one of those movies that leaves us wondering: “Why was this ever made?” would be a tad cliché. But, MGM has spent over a year now trying to hide this lame hand, and with the cards on the table, the fact of the matter seems to be that no one ever thought this movie should have been released — even MGM.

This is the same “Original Sin” we saw teased as an Oscar-season release, last November; and again this February. If you try really hard to forget, you might even be able to convince yourself you already saw it. Seeing as the oft-viewed preview gives away nearly every detail of the paper-thin plot line, you shouldn’t have too much trouble. A follower of the “confuse-the-hell-out-of-’em-and-run” school of thought, “Original Sin” takes little time to stop and make sense beyond the basic premise, which it struggles to adhere to.

“Original Sin” might be able to stand alone on the sexy, soft-core porn legs of Angelina Jolie, but then she really doesn’t come across as that sexy here. Any arousal created by the film’s fleeting moments of sexuality is squashed by the lost puppy that is Antonio Banderas, looking as if he thought he had signed up for “Spy Kids 2.”

After Luis Vargas (Banderas, “Spy Kids”), an absurdly wealthy Cuban of the “where-does-all-that-money-come-from” mold, weds a mysterious mail order American bride, he is faced with a number of pressing questions. For one, why does she look nothing like the horse of a wife he ordered in the first place? What’s up with all the kinky cuts on her back? And who the hell is that guy she’s fooling around with? Predictably, as soon as Vargas signs his wife, Julia (Angelina Jolie, “Tomb Raider”), into control of his bank account, she splits. So much one could draw from the preview, with very little effort. The remainder is the stuff of soap operas and late-night Showtime soft-core porn.

Muddying the picture and forcing some debate as to whether we should maybe take this movie as seriously as it wants to be — and needs to be to survive in a hostile summer — is a sketchy prologue involving Jolie. Here, she alludes to herself as Bonnie, not Julia, and the mental screws start turning. What starts as a decent thriller eventually molds into a psychological mess.

The analogy is unfair to Hitchcock and overly commending of “Original Sin,” but there are moments of Hitchcockian thrill here. The plot handles the adult thriller with the same tenacity and urgency that Hitchcock once did, forcing what seems like an entire story into half an hour, only then to turn a surprise on us and spin off in an unpredictable direction. Hitchcock, however, had some sense of what is — and is not — believable. While Hitchcock had a fine perfection of the art of subtlety, Michael Cristofer’s script of the Cornell Woolrich novel “Waltz into Darkness” does not. Instead, maybe due to the lazy performances of Jolie and Banderas, it bounces back and forth between overly dramatic and underplayed.

What seems awkward, and in a way disturbing, is the notion that this movie probably would have prospered greatly some 40 or 50 years ago. Even if it fails to nail Hitchcockian thrill on the head, it might have been close enough to pass. So, have we outgrown the classic thriller? Last year’s “What Lies Beneath” — a true thriller in the vain of Hitchcock — should serve as a striking “no sir” to that question. Our standards have just been raised a little. A little too much for “Original Sin.”



This article was published Aug 8, 2001 at 12:00 am and last updated Aug 8, 2001 at 12:00 am


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