PASSION PLAY Blu-ray Review

     July 7, 2011


When we imagine Mitch Glazer sitting down to write Passion Play, we must invariably ask, “What the hell was Mitch Glazer thinking?” His first film isn’t a case of a great script that’s been manhandled into an awkward, ugly movie: this one’s problems begin at the script stage, with the dialogue and the characters and the story. And while I’m not prepared to completely dismiss Glazer as a writer/director, I am– after Passion Play–inclined to forget that I’ve ever seen his “first” movie. Join me after the jump, where we can begin forgetting any of this ever happened…

passion-play-blu-ray-cover-imagePassion Play reminds me of ’94′s Pulp Fiction, but perhaps not for the reasons that Mitch Glazer would hope for. Back in ’94, Tarantino’s pulp-noir masterpiece was the hottest thing going, a film that stayed in theaters for months after its release (it played in the dollar theater near my house in Dallas for nearly a full year after its release) and inspired an entire generation of film geeks to start churning out their own scripts, directing their own movies, and professing their love for exploitation “classics” much in the same way that hipsters claim completely-unknown bands for their own today. These were the positive effects of Pulp Fiction.

The negative effects, of course, was that Pulp Fiction inspired a generation of bad filmmakers already working in Hollywood. We got a slew of Pulp Fiction rip-offs, a year-long Holly-dump of movies that aped Tarantino’s bizarro-style, gun-fetishism, and penchant for snappy dialogue. Many of these movies failed; only a few were any good.

So, why does Passion Play remind me of Pulp Fiction? Because it reminds me of one of those bizarro, pseudo-snappy-dialogue-heavy, gun-ridden films that followed in its wake. And not one of the good ones.

passion-play-movie-image-mickey-rourkeHere we have Mickey Rourke as Nate, a big, burly jazz musician who we meet in a club mid-performance. He’s rocking the joint– as much as one can rock with a trumpet, anyway– and soon enough he’s getting his ass kicked outside the club by a nameless henchman. The henchman drives him out to the middle of the desert, parks the car, points a gun at his head, and is just about to pull the trigger when a group of ninjas appears. At least, I assumed they were ninjas. They’re all wearing white pajamas, wearing black headbands (or something similar), and carrying heavy firepower (they aren’t quiet ninjas). Anyway, one of these “ninjas” shoots the henchman that was about to shoot Nate, and so Nate does the sensible thing: he wanders off into the desert– following after the “ninjas”, who have now run off around a corner– until he finds a circus. Where a man in a white leather suit is preaching at a crowd on the midway.  He then meets a woman with wings played by Megan Fox, and…

Lemme stop right there. You’ve just learned how the first ten minutes or so of Passion Play plays out. Be aware that I’m not keeping things vague for the sake of being vague, or attempting to present these story beats to you in a mysterious or illogical way: this is how the story plays out, heavy on style– everything’s very Lynchian in its dreaminess– and very low on things like “reality” or “recognizable actions being undertaken by characters that we can identify with”.

passion_play_movie_image_Mickey_Rourke_Megan FoxNow, on the one hand, there’s nothing wrong with that. Some of my favorite movies are heavy on weirdness, dream logic, and odd characters (In fact, I was just re-watching Eraserhead days before watching Passion Play). But just like those half-assed directors that tried to ape Tarantino’s style back in ’94, people have been trying to ape the weirdness and nightmarishness of David Lynch since…well, since Eraserhead, probably. Is Passion Play as unapologetically weird as a Lynch movie? No, of course not…but there’s clearly a little influence going on there.

Into all this weirdness comes Bill Murray. Now, from where I’m standing, the presence of Bill Murray can elevate almost anything.  I could be watching a snuff film starring my family, and as long as Bill Murray wandered into the shot at some point, I wouldn’t absolutely hate it. But Murray’s presence is far too little, far too late: by the time he shows up in the movie– as a gangster vying for the affections of Lily, the be-winged creature being “played by” Megan Fox (more on that in just a second)– we’ve already spent half the film being creeped out by Rourke (he’s like Marv-from-Sin-City‘s less angry, more personable cousin) and annoyed into oblivion by Fox’s acting abilities (I’m tellin’ ya, just one more paragraph and we’ll be there). I’d be surprised if most of you could get to Murray’s scenes, let’s put it that way. Keep that in mind if you go picking up Passion Play expecting to find “a Bill Murray movie that happens to feature Megan Fox and Mickey Rourke”.

passion-play-movie-image-megan-foxSo. Megan Fox. You and I both know that this woman has a career because she looks like a RealDoll come to life, and there’s no use pretending otherwise. Fox maintained throughout the production of the first two films in the Transformers franchise that she could do so much more, and eventually she was given an opportunity to put her money where her mouth was with Jennifer’s Body. If you’ve seen Jennifer’s Body, you know that Megan Fox has already basically proven that she’s all talk when it comes to “acting abilities”, but if you have any lingering doubts– maybe you blame the shoddiness of Jennifer’s Body on the script, or the direction, or the supporting players— then perhaps you’d like to have your greatest fears confirmed with Passion Play: Megan Fox cannot act.

At all. Not even a little bit. She’s completely unconvincing here– in a role that demanded someone beyond convincing, if not an actual woman with wings attached to her body– and, well, look, Megan Fox’s fifteen minutes are probably a day in the past. It was nice while it lasted, she gave it a shot, but the bottom line here is:  she can’t. Really, it gives me no pleasure to report this– I’m not getting off on the schadenfreude here– and I’d say the same thing to an armless man that wants to be a Champion Hand-Clapper or a woman with no mouth trying to be a “Hot Dog Eating Contest” winner: it ain’t happening, please find another way to showcase your, uh, talents.

passion-play-movie-poster-01Mitch Glazer’s a talented cat, and he’s been involved in some of my favorite films– he produced Lost in Translation, he worked with the dearly-departed Mike O’Donoghue on Scrooged (one of my favorite Bill Murray films), he…well, that’s about it, but still, I knew Mitch Glazer’s name before seeing Passion Play-- but it’s hard to tell what he was going for here. Was he aiming for something Tarantino-esque, or something more akin to Lynch’s massive weirdness? Was he pulling for a genre-bending mash-up? Had this story been rattling around in his head for years, only to come spilling out when he realized his old friend Mickey Rourke was just the right age for Nate? And why is it called Passion Play? I mean, really: why? So many questions, so precious few answers.

As I mentioned before, I think there’s enough confidence and talent on display here (some of it’s shot really well, and the film’s never uninteresting to look at…it’s just that the story and the characters are lifeless and flat) that we shouldn’t write Glazer off completely as a director/writer, but I think that we also need to watch his next move very closely…assuming there is one.

The Blu-ray looks razor-sharp, and comes packaged with…um, a trailer. That’s it. No commentary to offer us insight into Glazer’s creative process or thinking, no feedback on what he thought of Fox’s performance (though, really, what was he gonna say? At the very least, though, a commentary would’ve revealed why he cast her…besides the obvious reasons), nothing. There’s no deleted scenes, no behind-the-scenes featurette (which I assumed was law by now), no alternate ending.  Just crisp audio and visuals and a trailer. Tack that on to the lackluster film, and you’ve got a Blu-ray I’d pass on. I would, however, recommend Passion Play to anyone that’s interested in seeing Megan Fox struggle, Bill Murray do someone a favor, or Mickey Rourke being…burly and rumpled– all against a bizarre, sometimes-confusing backdrop of weird, dreamy imagery. In that case, it might be worth a rental.  Passion Play ain’t the worst movie I’ve seen this year, but it was easily one of the most dull.

My grade?  C-

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  • Jon

    Mr. Wampler, your review was probably the most interesting/funniest thing I’ve read all day.

    Looks even dumber than Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales, and that’s a huge low to draw comparisons.

  • Tarek

    What is doing the great Bill Murray in this masquerade ?

  • Ten

    My oh my, Scott – you are reporting what you saw in the movie but you never delve behind the many meanings and symbols in the film and there is a reason why you don’t as you will soon see …

    First – this is more of an art film rather than a mainstream formulaic film that American audiences love. It’s not one of those “boy gets girl / loses girl / gets girl” type of movie.

    Second – Very poor casting. With all the plastic surgery and botox, Mickey Rourke cannot show facial expressions. The film should have run subtitles “Mickey Rourke is now feeling scared.” “Mickey Rourke is feeling sad.” “Mickey Rourke is feeling love.” “Mickey Rourke is amazed that he is feeling love.” And so on.

    Megan Fox is a beautiful woman but with no acting skills. The casting of these two roles really ruins the movie.

    Bill Murray is not a convincing bad guy. If anything, he should have been cast in Mickey Rourke’s role. …and when Bill Murray utters the cliched “how many angels can you fit on the head of a pin” … Well I would like to smack both him and Glazer in the noggin.

    Murray is known for adlibbing most of his movie roles. Hell – he came up with that mysterious thought-provoking whisper at the end of Lost in Translation. The whisper isn’t even in the script. In Passion Play, he’s a meek bad guy for sure.

    Third – There are very very many symbols throughout the film that tell an entirely different story … and I don’t mean to criticize you about not delving into the film’s background symbolism because it is so obscure – so very obscure – it is not symbolism that is well known to Americans.

    Case in point – those Ninja’s at the beginning … those are Native Mexican Indians. Certain tribes used to wear white cotton tunics. I agree they look like Ninja’s and few people would ever think they were Native Mexican Indians.

    There were four NM Indians and they each shot the bad guy once … so there were four shots. The number four is important to this culture – the four seasons … the four directions … etc.

    The bird flying overhead had the same shaped wings as the “human angel” and is symbolic of “watching over” Rourke’s character. The stereotypical presence of the snake; the significance of the different parts of the Mexican circus; a man all in white.

    I greatly hope you go back through the movie again and look for symbols. I have watched the film four times and the symbolism in it fascinates me. But again…many of the symbols reference a culture that is obscure to Americans.

    The film is not a good theatrical release though it is quite acceptable for home viewing. My appreciation for the film developed after I saw it a second time.

    • Tarek

      Conclusion: You are the sole guy in the world who saw the plans within the plans. Are you a Guilde mutant ? ^^

      • ten

        No, Tarek, I am clairsentient and female btw.

      • Tarek

        Hi Ten. A sort of Bene Guesserit then ? ^^

        To be clairsentient is not that simple everyday I suppose.

      • ten

        Sort of, Tarek, except that I did not train. I can see people’s energies and can tell them their strengths or weaknesses or what they should or should not do. I cannot see the energy of all people but I am real REAL accurate when I do. Being Taoist helps.

      • Tarek

        Very interesting… sort of third eye. I suppose that we all have this “ability”, but not all of us know how to exploit it. Our real eyes can deceive us…

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