Playing God

1997, R, 93 min. Directed by Andy Wilson. Starring David Duchovny, Timothy Hutton, Angelina Jolie, Michael Massee, Peter Stormare, Andrew Tiernan.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 17, 1997

In the preposterously scripted yet defiantly engaging Playing God, actor David Duchovny gives us the story of Dr. Eugene Sands, a man suffering from a desperately bad case of “physician, heal thyself.” Eugene is a doctor who, as we first meet up with him, has already lost his license due to his pesky drug addictions. And this is the heart of his problem: He can't decide which he loves more -- being a doctor or being a junkie. It doesn't help that it seems as though every time he turns around another life crumbles at his feet waiting to be healed. He has this uncanny propensity for standing next to people who are about to be splayed open by gunshots. So what's an ethical doctor to do, even if it just so happens that the shooting victim is inconveniently bleeding to death in the shady bar where Eugene has just copped his drugs? It also doesn't help that this doctorly act brings Eugene to the attention of underworld kingpin Raymond Blossom (Hutton) and his seductive girlfriend Claire (Jolie). These two want Eugene to play doctor to their injury-prone accomplices who would rather avoid the troubling paperwork involved in a hospital's treatment of a gunshot wound. So, for a time at least, the junkie doctor is able to have his cake and eat it too. Silly and unbelievable, the pleasures of Playing God are all surface-level aspects. Timothy Hutton delves into the malevolent Blossom with delicious abandon, sustaining the character's off-kilter blend of being both an appealing master of destiny and trip-wire mad dog. Hutton's colorful flourish contrasts with Duchovny's laid-back self-mocking tone, and together their styles create an interesting interplay. Andy Wilson's feature directorial debut (following his award-winning work as director of the British TV series Cracker) is pock-marked with every visual toy on a studio control board. Jazzy wipes between scenes, druggy camera shots even for scenes in which no one is high, balletic gunplay, and much more erupt from the screen. Yet, what's in between is shot in a fairly routine and unimaginative manner that additionally squanders many rich opportunities while never missing an opportunity to focus provocatively on Angelina Jolie's full, lush lips. The script by Mark Haskell Smith offers little help -- it piles on such stock characters as clueless FBI dorks and single-minded Russian mobsters to an already tenuous storyline. Granted, it's hard to figure out at this point who's responsible for what since the film has been tinkered with since completion and its opening date pushed back several times. Eugene's voiceovers that dot the movie are probably one of the results of that process. Playing God demonstrates why it's a job best left to a pro.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More David Duchovny Films
What Happens Later
Ryan and Duchovny ponder the road not taken in magical rom-com

Steve Davis, Nov. 3, 2023

You People
A modern riff on Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

Jan. 20, 2023

More by Marjorie Baumgarten
SXSW Film Review: The Greatest Hits
SXSW Film Review: The Greatest Hits
Love means never having to flip to the B side

March 16, 2024

SXSW Film Review: The Uninvited
SXSW Film Review: The Uninvited
A Hollywood garden party unearths certain truths

March 12, 2024


Playing God, Andy Wilson, David Duchovny, Timothy Hutton, Angelina Jolie, Michael Massee, Peter Stormare, Andrew Tiernan

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle