Back in April, Mickey Rourke made a brutally unhinged comment about two of his upcoming films, Passion Play and 13. He called them both ‘terrible’. Naturally, this sparked curiosity on just how bad the former, Mitch Glazer’s straight-to-DVD directorial debut would be. Is it terrible? In a word, yes. Yes, it is terrible. Passion Play is so misguidedly earnest that it garners the kind of response one has when a toddler tries to walk but is not quite ready. ‘Oh, look at him trying to walk! Isn’t that sweet!’ has been replaced with ‘Oh, look at him trying to make a film! Isn’t that…oh…’ Bogged down in painful noir clichés and rote sentimentality, Passion Play has enough unintentional laugh-out-loud moments that will hurdle it into turkey infamy.
Rourke plays Nate Poole, a down-on-his-luck trumpeter who is in some trouble with gangster Happy Shannon (Bill Murray), after sleeping with Shannon’s wife. Narrowly escaping death (he is saved by random snipers, who are never explained) Nate finds himself at a traveling circus where he meets Lilly (Megan Fox), a woman with wings. She has been brought up by Sam (Rhys Ifans), who runs the circus. Nate and Lilly apparently have enough of a connection in one conversation to escape the clutches of Sam and run off together. Nate secretly plans on exploiting her with Shannon in exchange for his life. As the two enter a relationship, Nate regrets his betrayal and sets out on saving Lilly from the predicament he has put her in.
The weakest element of Passion Play is the script. For all the inertness of the film, the amateurish and nonsensical script is where the films disastrous seed was sown. For starters, the plot is thoroughly implausible, never making us forget how ridiculous its base concept is. Another filmmaker could have scrapped the script, started with the concept and created something delightfully weird and bizarre. Instead, we get a film that takes itself so seriously, clearly believing it has crafted an engaging modern-day fable. The feeling that Glazer was really trying hard to make something good out of a script he clearly believes in, makes the film so awkward to watch. It is sad that anybody, including Glazer who wrote it, would take this script seriously.
Conversations begin with lines like “Have you ever seen the ocean?” Yeah; it’s that bad. The connection between Nate and Lilly is in no way convincing. Let us put aside the fact that we are supposed to buy Mickey Rourke and Megan Fox as two people who fall in love. The way their relationship comes about is too abrupt, feeling about as realistic as Lilly’s wings. How are we supposed to care about these two when Nate is scheming against Lilly during most of their scenes together? Instead of crafting a tale of redemption, the film never points out the moment when Nate’s regret starts to seep in, leading us to believe that it is only when the two sleep together (yes there is a love scene, complete with Rourke fondling Fox’s wings) that he feels differently about her. And if that is the case, Nate comes off as even more of a sad-sack schmuck than at the start of the film.
There is blatant awkwardness throughout, whether from the acting, dialogue or direction. So much of the film is oddly staged, as if we are looking in on an underworked rehearsal. Some of the beats between lines of dialogue do not feel natural. The same goes for the timing between certain shots. There is something entirely off-kilter about a lot of Passion Play, and there are times when Glazer cannot execute simple scenes. For an example of this, look to the early scene with Rourke and Ifans in his abode. Scenes like this come around about once every ten minutes that force the audience to contemplate the mere existence of this film.
Mickey Rourke is clearly coasting here. His worn-out face allows him to fit into these types of roles very easily. Sometimes his heart is in it, sometimes it is not. He cannot even pretend to play the trumpet correctly, in one of the film’s laugh-out-loud scenes. Megan Fox clearly wants to be taken seriously here, but she has chosen the wrong film for it. She is just there to look stunning, doing little to negate the notion that her character is just an object for others to gawk at. The film is using Fox the same way Happy Shannon, Sam and Nate all try to use her. It is hard to take Fox seriously when she is stuck in a constant state of crying gullibility. With Fox, Passion Play becomes a maudlin Victoria’s Secret commercial, complete with wings.
Finally, Bill Murray as a gangster sounds inspired, and admittedly he comes closest to an actual performance. Yet he is coasting as well, relying on his usual droll line deliveries to come off as menacing due to the content of the dialogue. For a perfect example of Rourke and Murray coasting, watch the scene in which Rourke makes his proposition to Murray during lunch. Neither looks like they want to be there. It is all too easy to picture them sitting around and waiting for action to be called so the scene can creep all too willingly towards completion.
What is good about Passion Play? Well, there is some typically wonderful photography by Christopher Doyle, the film’s only saving grace. Passion Play may just seem like a merely terrible film while watching it, with occasional moments of so-bad-it’s-funny moments. But the film’s leap into infamy is made concrete in its final minutes, which needs to be seen to be believed. Hint; there is flying involved.