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'Commandments' review: And you think you've got problems

scene from Commandments

May 9, 1997
Web posted at: 5:33 a.m. EDT (0933 GMT)

From Reviewer Carol Buckland

(CNN) -- "Commandments" starts with a very provocative premise. While its creative nerve flags before the final reel, the production deserves points for taking some interesting cinematic chances.

The central character is a man named Seth Warner (Aidan Quinn). He's afflicted with all kinds of troubles. His pregnant wife has vanished at sea. His house has been blitzed by a tornado. He's also lost his job.

Understandably upset, he stands on a roof and demands an explanation from God. The response is a bolt of lightning that lands him in the hospital and maims his little dog, Sparky.

By this time, Seth is beyond musing about why bad things happen to good people. He's pissed -- pissed to the point where he decides he's going to start breaking commandments until God clues him in on what's happening.

That's when the "fun" stuff starts.

Quinn is excellent as Seth. He's smart, he's sexy, and he lends a special spirit to his square-off with the Lord.

Seth is aided and abetted in his quest by his sleazy brother, Harry. Harry is a journalist who cheats on just about everybody in his life. Anthony LaPaglia (star of the late and lamented "Murder One") turns in a scene-stealing performance in this deliciously rotten role. While Harry isn't a "divine" villain, he's a compellingly entertaining character.

Also on hand is Courtney Cox (yes, another member of "Friends" seeking a film career). She's attractive -- although underutilized -- as Seth's sister-in-law, Rachel. Her character comes in handy when Seth gets around to thinking about adultery.

"Commandments" is a debut effort from writer-director Daniel Taplitz. Its set-up promises more than it pays off. The production is also very uneven in terms of tone. Trying to combine dark-hearted comedy with spiritual commentary is a tough thing to do, and this flick stumbles as often as it succeeds. Still, it's refreshing to watch a movie that delves into emotional complexities and issues of faith rather than depending on special effects and by-the-number plot twists.

"Commandments" runs 87 minutes. It is rated R. The language is profane (in more ways than one). There is partial nudity as well as a number of "sexual" situations.


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