Original Sin

on August 03, 2001 by Paul Clinton
   "Original Sin" is an empty, overheated thriller straight out of bad '40s noir. It becomes a test of willpower to stay awake while Angelina Jolie and Antonio Banderas exchange bits of awful dialogue dressed up with lush visuals.

   Jolie plays a con artist named Julia who poses as a mail-order bride for Banderas' Luis Vargas, co-owner of a coffee plantation in late 19th-century Cuba. Once married, Julia disappears with his fortune, prompting the heartsick Luis to track her down.

   The actress doesn't have much to work with--even less than she had in "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider." Michael Cristofer, addicted to close-ups of Jolie's bee-stung lips, should have been reminded he wasn't making a commercial for Chapstick.

   These two made "Gia" together--the HBO movie that catapulted Jolie into stardom. Cristofer hasn't progressed much as a director since then--the movie is marred by erratic camerawork, jarring editing and lighting that turns Jolie's skin as pallid as a corpse. When nothing else works, Cristofer turns to Carnivale-type scenes meant to draw us into the romantic mood of Havana at the time.

   Cristofer's adaptation of Cornell Woolrich's "Walk Into Darkness" (which was also the basis for Truffaut's "Mississippi Mermaid") is filled with howlers like this one: "This is not a love story, but a story about love," Jolie's Julia says in voiceover narration.

   Cristofer has said his movie is about sexual obsession and, playing the wounded artist, complained publicly that the MPAA forced him to cut too many of the sex scenes to get an R rating. It's hard to have much sympathy given that the movie is so lacking in eroticism: True chemistry shouldn't hinge on uncensored bedroom escapades. Banderas tries to play it straight, but the actor has never had much skill for soap opera drama; he has become a living caricature of the Latin lover. Starring Antonio Banderas, Angelina Jolie and Thomas Jane. Directed and written by Michael Cristofer. Produced by Denise Di Novi, Kate Guinzburg and Carol Lees. An MGM release. Drama/Thriller. Rated R for strong sexual content and some violence. Running time: 116 min

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