Wednesday 17 June 2015

Movie Review: Playing God (1997)

A poorly executed action drama, Playing God aims for a cerebral angle in the story of a flawed surgeon falling into the sphere of a criminal, but fails on every count.

In Los Angeles, Eugene Sands (David Duchovny) is a disgraced former doctor who lost his licence after his persistent drug use caused the death of a patient undergoing an operation. While buying his latest batch of drugs at a dingy bar, the emotionally down and out Eugene is in the right place at the right time to save the life of a gangland shooting victim. Eugene's heroics are witnessed by the enigmatic Claire (Angelina Jolie). Her charismatic boss is mobster Raymond Blossom (Timothy Hutton), and he quickly connects with Eugene and unofficially appoints him as his personal medic, responsible for patching up injured friends or foes as the situation requires.

Eugene learns that Raymond is involved in a dispute with Russian mobsters (including Peter Stormare as Dimitri), but wants to move into bigger illegal business deals with Chinese racketeers. Meanwhile Eugene and Claire start to develop feelings for each other, and the FBI move in to try and pressure Eugene to inform on Raymond's activities.

Flush from success on TV's The X Files, Duchovny attempted to carve out a film career but instead landed in this mess. Filmed in 1995 but not released until two years later due to negative audience test scores, Playing God trips all over itself and lands in a bloody puddle of incompetence. This is a shoddily produced film filled with barely coherent scenes, and no attempt to delve into characters, motivation, or context beyond the most superficial level.

Duchovny's contribution to the shambolic failure is not insubstantial. His approach to the role of Dr. Sands is to stand aside with an expression of drugged-out stupor, and then spring into action with life-saving medical heroics. A scene later, repeat. He may be a victim of an astonishingly bad script by Mark Haskell Smith, but Duchovny's blankness certainly does not do much to better the material.

Director Andy Wilson tries for a narration-heavy neo-noir vibe, and gets nowhere. The tone oscillates wildly between serious, comic, violent and gory, but is never actually smart or engaging. To keep the character of Eugene relevant, almost every scene has to end with someone close-to-death and needing the doctor's intervention, and the film inadvertently encourages a distracting "guess the next victim to be saved" parlour game.

Meanwhile, Timothy Hutton gradually slips into madman persona as the villain Raymond Blossom, and by the end enters full-on wild psychotic mode, fully eroding any sense of serious drama. Angelina Jolie, in one of her earlier and very forgettable roles as Claire, is given instructions to look serious and sultry without being told what exactly she is doing in the movie other than providing decoration. A clutch of faceless FBI agents enter the action late in the proceedings and just add to the overall amateurish feel.

The premise of a humiliated doctor getting embroiled in gang warfare must have seemed like a good idea on paper. Resoundingly botching the concept, Playing God is a plain dog.

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