1998, R, 124 min. Directed by Gregory Hoblit. Starring Denzel Washington, John Goodman, Donald Sutherland, Embeth Davidtz, James Gandolfini, Elias Koteas.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Jan. 16, 1998

Demons, angels, and Denzel. What starts off as a typical police procedural is given a fresh spin by Primal Fear director Hoblit and an excellent cast. But Fallen's pretentious vision of a demonic force out to shatter the life of one lowly homicide detective is, ultimately, a pretty silly ride despite the film's obvious strengths and some genuinely eerie scenes. Washington plays Detective John Hobbes, a cop who's purely dedicated to putting away the worst of the worst and making sure they get what's coming to them, be it a lengthy stretch in the can or a solitary trip to the gas chamber. This latter option is the fate of Reese (Koteas), a mad dog killer who has a working knowledge of ancient Aramaic and a love of Sixties pop tunes. When apparent copycat killings begin cropping up after Reese's execution, Hobbes, along with partner Jonesy (Goodman), investigates and finds a lengthy skein of evil dating back decades. With the help of theologian Gretta Milano (Davidtz), Hobbes begins to believe that he is being stalked by the demon Azazel, a malicious woodland imp with the power to pass from person to person by touch (and a love of Sixties pop tunes). The demon, we are told, is here to dismantle civilization “one person at a time,” and its current target is the god-fearing and righteous Hobbes. Demon/Angel films are the next big thing, due in part, I think, to the approaching millennial swing shift, and while Fallen bears the dark, melancholy look of David Fincher's Seven, it's deep in Exorcist/Omen territory. Nicholas Kazan's script makes much of the fact that Hobbes is such a stand-up guy. There are vague mutterings of a broken marriage, and the detective currently shares his house with his mentally handicapped brother and young nephew. The guy's a veritable saint, and we're led to believe that's essentially why this particular demon has chosen to wreck his life. Kazan piles on the ecumenical dialogue like it's going out of style (once again, the Book of Revelation makes an appearance), and the film falters beneath its need to pull out all the theological stops and give Hobbes at least a modicum of skepticism. Hoblit manages to pull off some clever, chilling scenes with Azazel's preferred mode of locomotion, however. One such bit -- set in broad daylight on a crowded city street -- has the demon passing from anonymous person to person to person as a bewildered and terrified Hobbes stands in their midst. One by one, they turn and give him the old evil eye, and you can tell it's all he can do not to crack right there. It's a terrific, creepy jolt in the midst of a film that, for the most part, seems to be grinding forward with all the inexorable tedium of the millennial change.

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Fallen, Gregory Hoblit, Denzel Washington, John Goodman, Donald Sutherland, Embeth Davidtz, James Gandolfini, Elias Koteas

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