- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 4, 2001

"Original Sin," after threatening to remain on the shelf for as long as "Town and Country," has been paroled for a late-summer booking. This may or may not enhance Angelina Jolie's status as a seasonal franchise or cinematic Jezebel. If you hope to encourage both options, make haste and recruit as many wisecracking friends as you can.
This belated stinker is unlikely to do much for Antonio Banderas, who plays Miss Jolie's patsy. The second actor in the setup, Thomas Jane, draws a more dynamic role as the deceitful heroine's confederate. If nothing else, this scurvy impersonation will allow Mr. Jane to add some unique lines to his resume: In one scene, he forces a bruising kiss on Mr. Banderas' offended lips. Clearly, acting is no profession for weaklings.
"Original Sin" derives from a mystery novel, "Waltz Into Darkness," by the late and often overrated Cornell Woolrich, who originated the story that became Alfred Hitchcock's "Rear Window."
Miss Jolie plays a blackhearted imposter of a bride, a shameless hussy who assumes the name Julia Russell while hoaxing and then robbing Mr. Banderas. He portrays a Cuban coffee planter, Luis Vargas, who has arranged a betrothal by mail and finds himself bewitched, degraded and terminally corrupted. The corruption of the material itself is reflected in the smug satisfaction we're meant to share at the spectacle of a once-decent man surrendering to depravity.
The movie, which is set toward the end of the 19th century and filmed in Mexico, begins and ends with a gargantuan close-up of Miss Jolie's lips, kind of an "eighth wonder of the world," one gathers. Her character, behind bars at the time, is also drafted as a narrator. Framing a most ingenious paradox, she announces: "This is not a love story, but it is a story about love."
Taking backward spectators by the hand, she also alerts them that the flashbacks are about to begin. So begins the woeful waltz into damnation of Luis Vargas, putty in the hands of the false Julia Russell as soon as she steps off the boat in Havana harbor, shielding her fair visage with a parasol.
"Original Sin" reunites Miss Jolie with Michael Cristofer, who guided her cable-TV triumph as a modern-day Jezebel, the ravenous supermodel "Gia." Evidently, he gets custody of Miss Jolie at her nastiest. It might be fun to underline this cliche by giving the actress a slight variation on Lou Costello's old tag line, "I'm a bad boy." Sooner or later, every Cristofer-Jolie collaboration could spring the playful, superfluous confession, "I'm a bad girl."
Mr. Cristofer lingers over the first encounter between Julia and Luis in a way that suggests he intends to prolong ominous rubbish for as long as possible. Nearly two hours later, you feel adequately persecuted. A certain disarming note might be helpful in the early going, but the framing device with Miss Jolie in the lockup has pretty much eliminated that option. As a result, "Original Sin" is one of those fatalistic ordeals that concedes so much to evil from the outset that it neglects even the entertainment value of suspense or doubt.
It's no contest as Mr. Banderas is being double-teamed by Miss Jolie and Mr. Jane, so there's an irresistible temptation to side with the sidewinders and take a perversely detached amusement in whatever deception or humiliation is inflicted on the overmatched victim. Or you can let your mind go wandering in the direction of more effective variations on the same pretext: "The Blue Angel," "Lolita," "Body Heat" or "Reindeer Games." I don't think "Original Sin" poses a serious threat to the tawdriest example. Its most diabolical feature is the deflating revelation that unmitigated wickedness can be really boring.
*
TITLE: "Original Sin"
RATING: R ("Strong sexual content and some violence," according to the MPAA; occasional graphic violence, with gruesome illustrative details and occasional sexual candor, with an emphasis on betrayal and interludes of simulated intercourse; occasional nudity)
CREDITS: Written and directed by Michael Cristofer, based on the novel "Waltz Into Darkness" by Cornell Woolrich. Cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto; production design by David J. Bomba; costume design by Donna Zakowska; and music by Terence Blanchard
RUNNING TIME: 116 minutes MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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