The Austin Chronicle

Playing God

Rated 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.

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