DIRECTED BY: Mitch Glazer
PLOT: A trumpet player discovers a woman with wings at a freak show while hiding out from a
gangster who wants him dead.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Because it’s the most predictable and obvious movie about a jazz trumpeter saving an angel from a gangster it would be possible to make.
COMMENTS: There’s almost nothing that Passion Play gets right, starting with its pretentious, inappropriate title: if Mickey Rourke is a Christ figure, then I’m a sex symbol. The scenario starts out promisingly enough, positioning itself in a twilight netherworld somewhere between film noir and fairy tale. Junkie jazz musician Nate, who gets by providing bump ‘n grind accompaniment for strippers in pasties at the Dream Lounge, is seized by persons unknown and taken to the desert for summary execution. After an incredible escape from certain death, he stumbles upon an equally improbable carnival that has pitched its tents in the middle of nowhere and where yokels pay a dollar to peep at a beautiful “angel” with eagle wings. So far, your suspension of disbelief is strained but not broken, but then the movie goes too far: 59-year old Mickey Rourke, with his stringy unwashed hair falling in clumps around a face that looks like the beaten-up mug of an ex-boxer experimenting with Botox injections, knocks on Megan Fox’s trailer door, and she asks him in for a drink. From there the movie just gets worse and worse, as the mobster who ordered Nate’s execution also becomes obsessed with Fox and the pic turns into a conventional, obvious and boring love-triangle that begs us to care whether angelic Megan Fox will choose old, sleazy, poor Mickey Rourke or old, sleazy, rich Bill Murray. Rourke, whose look and backstory are modeled on Chet Baker in his heroin-ravaged final days, is acceptably gruff, and you’ll believe he shoots junk and sells out those dearest to him. The fact that there’s nothing sympathetic or likable about his character is a serious problem, though. Watching the sex scene between Rourke and Fox is guaranteed to make your skin crawl; wondering where she’s going to position her wings as they roll around on the hotel room bed isn’t the only thing that’s awkward about it. “Happy” Shannon’s laid back, almost emotionless mien may have been a deliberate acting choice by Bill Murray to make his character seem cold and calculating, but in the context of a film this bad, it makes it look like he’s acting under protest. You feel more sympathy for Fox as an actress than you do for her character; after starring in one awful movie after another, she tries to expand her horizons with an ambitious art film, but winds up in yet another bungled disaster (and this time, it’s not even her fault). Passion Play‘s target audience seems to be creepy old guys who like to daydream that they’d have a shot at Megan Fox if only she had some sort of easily overlooked physical deformity. So when I, as a creepy older guy who wouldn’t kick Ms. Fox out of bed if she sprouted wings, tell you that this movie sucks, it should carry extra weight.
Mickey Rourke made waves for openly criticizing Passion Play after its release, publicly calling it “terrible.” I can’t say I disagree with him, but openly and proactively trashing your own film seems like the kind of classless move Passion Play‘s crummy trumpeter might make.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…though the movie is both too strange to take seriously and not weird enough to live up to [David] Lynch’s macabre surrealism, you have to credit writer-director Mitch Glazer (co-author of ‘Scrooged’) for being daring.”–Kyle Smith, New York Post (contemporaneous)