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Review: Nothing creepy about 'Devil's Advocate'

Scenes from October 23, 1997
Web posted at: 11:16 p.m. EDT (0316 GMT)

By Reviewer Paul Tatara

(CNN) -- Poor Satan. He just doesn't hold the emotional sway that he used to, now that he's mired in the ironic 90s. There was a time when filmmakers could spread goose bumps across an audience simply by having a man with a pointy beard chuckle and rub his chin, but those days are long gone. And it's only getting worse.

In the 70s it took something as elaborate as Linda Blair's neck doing aerobics to convince us that we weren't just looking at a bunch of actors pretending. By now, though, turning on the 6 o'clock news is scarier than anything you're bound to see at the theater. Our spirituality has actually become jaded.

Jaded or not, it seems like a studio could come up with something creepier than "The Devil's Advocate," which stars Al Pacino and actor-like performer Keanu Reeves as lawyers who are ... evil! This would be frightening as hell if it weren't already common knowledge, but the scattershot script doesn't even manage to make it much fun. You don't care about any of the characters, so there's no fear of something nasty happening to them, and, with the exception of Pacino (who plays the devil himself), it's terribly miscast.

Let's face it, if Keanu Reeves walks in and announces that he'll be defending you in your triple murder case (as he does for Craig T. Nelson in the movie), you would be wise to run out and buy 30 or 40 cartons of Marlboros. You'll be needing them in jail. To top it all off, director Taylor Hackford expects us to feel like we're staring into the Heart of Darkness because a bunch of rich guys get a kick out of slinky women and really expensive furniture. I'm not exactly running around with a pitchfork, but, hey, with the exception of the furniture, I'm right with 'em.

Like "Rosemary's Baby" (It pains me to mention Polanski's classic in the same article as this turkey), "The Devil's Advocate" is set in New York City, and attempts to wring hellishness out of the escapades of a ladder-climbing careerist. Reeves plays a hot-shot lawyer from Gainesville, Florida, a man so brilliant he's never lost a case.

Snicker.

His wife (Charlize Theron) is a curly-haired cutie who seems even more greedy and ambitious than her husband. In fact, Theron and Reeves are so self-centered it's a little difficult to feel sorry for them when Keanu's tainted soul commences to ruining the happy household. In the opening scene, Reeves even grills a junior high school girl on the stand, forcing her to look like a liar when she says that her (quite guilty) teacher molested her. The girl starts crying, but it could just be her embarrassment from watching Reeves.

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This guy has already generated enough big-time income and palpitating hearts to secure his seat in the Free Lunch for Life Club, so I hope I'm not being too revisionist to suggest that he's bad. By this, I mean, of course, that he's no good. First of all, every line of dialogue he delivers has an odd robust quality to it, as if he's playing a Viking instead of southern lawyer, and he displays an absolute inability to look like he's caught up in a scene. Watch his eyes. He's got this dead gaze that suggests he's peering at the other actors through a pane of glass, rather than standing in the same room with them. I can't wait for Reeves and Bridget Fonda to be teamed up as incredibly attractive drying paint. Maybe in "The Sherwin-Williams Story."

Pacino isn't really around all that much, but he does just fine considering he's dealing with a script that thinks it's the height of cleverness to name the devil John Milton. He grins maniacally, stares lecherously at the previously mentioned slinky women, and (for who knows what reason) convinces Theron to change her hair style. Stop! You're scaring me!

He gets one pretty funny scene near the end, during which he rants about how little attention God bestows on the Earth, but he's just showing off. After his moving, understated work in "Donnie Brasco," this is a real letdown. The moral? Never give a man an Oscar for yelling "Hoo-ahhh!"

As I've already stated, there are several poorly cast performers, the main one being Connie Nielson, as the devil's seductive daughter, Christabella. Nielson is an exquisite woman, but with her red hair and peaches-and-cream complexion, she doesn't suggest any darkness, no mystery whatsoever. Early in the film, an elegant actress who plays Pacino's secretary lustfully flashes her eyes in Reeves' direction, and she effortlessly conveys the sort of smoldering heat that Nielson's role called for. A friend of mine worked on the film, and he tells me the actress' name is Caprice Benedetti. For ten seconds, this astonishing, dark-haired beauty burns a small hole in the screen. She's got the devil in her eyes, and that's more than can be said for her higher-paid co-workers. Somebody sign her up.

With the exception of Benedetti's fleeting gaze, the whole thing is so slick, unfocused, and steadfastly 'so-what' you don't buy it for a second. It's like one of those Shriners' haunted houses that they set up on Halloween, the kind where you get your hand stuck in a bowl full of grapes and they tell you that they're witch's eyeballs.

"The Devil's Advocate," has lotsa naked people, blood, and violence. Some people turn into scary monsters, but if you don't know that by now, you probably don't get out of the house very often. Rated R. 130 minutes.

 
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