After a friend came back from seeing the Devil’s Advocate creaming over its “epic struggle between good and evil,” (and after a canned food drive allowed me to get in for the price of 3 cans of soup), I decided to act against my disdain for Keanu Reeves and Master Thespian of ACTing Al Pacino and go see it. I was ready to like it. I even noticed funny things in my notebook: Penta Plaza is the building the firm is in, stuff like that.
Three hours of my life, one hour of life per canned good I donated to suffer through this movie, were wasted. I could have sat in the parking lot eating room temperature cheese ravioli and had a better time. To loosely paraphrase The Onion, knowing the name of director Taylor Hackford is only notable for purposes of avoiding his future work. My notes went from finding favor with pretty minor visual gags to: “Kinda boring.” (This was early on, before it was relentlessly boring) “Not enough mythical.” “Goony cult shit after hospital & Keanu Reeves is the Omega Man.” “Yawner denouement.” YES I actually wrote that.
OK, the premise is that Reeves is a slick southern lawyer married to the extremely talented Charlize Theron who gets mixed up with slick city lawyer Pacino who naturally turns out to be Satan. Gasp! Lawyers and the devil! What a compelling combination! How novel! And where is the good guy side to epically battle Satan (who, borrowing riffs from the Word of God in a laughably long and stupid 3rd reel monologue, seems more interested in petty criminals roaming the streets than toppling or even ruffling the kingdom of Heaven)?
The first 10 minutes starts out looking like an interesting film, filled with moral consequences and stuff – and with a hell of a performance by Heather Matarazzo (Welcome to the Dollhouse). Then it just gets stupid. Ooh, watch Pacino leer as he dips a finger into a thing of holy water and it bubbles! Oh man, you mean, like lawyers are courted by the devil? DUDE! Name your lawyers-are-evil joke and it’s in there. Theron, the housebound and isolated wife to Reeves, never takes it to the whiny level the director obviously wanted her to do, and instead is really great, with genuine fear and a descent into madness that would render this movie watchable if it weren’t for the fact that we know she is tormented because she took this job. Go, Charlize!
A couple of creepy visuals and hugely telegraphed plot points – oh, to hell with it, if you see it after reading this, you’d still figure it out – Pacino is Reeves’ father oooh! He wants lawyerboy to make it with that hot lawyerchick that the camera lingered on so unnecessarily. aah! If they make a baybay (as Keanu says) then it will be the real Antichrist and Satan can get it going real good! Judith Ivey is the Bible thumping mom of Keanu Antichrist and she really is very good too. Even his royal Dudeness is not as annoying as he usually is – my theory is that the Dixie accent he adopts for his Gainesville showy lawyer routine masks his acting hitches. Pacino is his usual self – convinced that that shouting and cackling is coming off as something new and/or interesting.
Oh man, who thought of this: the cool architectural frieze comes to life.* There’s like, fire and stuff! Man! I never envisioned the devil as leering and grandstanding with FIRE! Literally, at the end, I was laughing so hard I missed “crucial” dialogue. Diatribe. It’s like an SNL lowest-common-denominator lawyer skit without even attempts at humor lasting a full hour too long. My favorite note I took was “Missed a part laughing from suicidal mime in my boredom – Sinatra?” If you want to know what that means, get in contact with me. Bonus points for all the ladies cast, for the set decorators, and for the creepy dressing room scene. Oh and for casting everyone in the world so we can play Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Jeffrey Jones, Craig T. Nelson, Delroy Lindo, it’s nuts. But I have not been so disappointed since Anaconda – and I thought I knew what to expect this time. Avoid the Devil’s Advocate at all costs.
* Note: To add insult to insult, the video release of this movie elminated the shots featuring the only cool or memorable part of this movie because of some crackpot installation artist screaming “copyright infringement!” and threatening to sue. So, chew on that.
MPAA Rating R – language, nudity, violence
Release date 11/10/97
Time in minutes 138
Director Taylor Hackford
Studio Warner Brothers