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Friday, August 3, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

Jolie and Banderas less than thrilling in this unforgivable 'Sin'

Seattle Times movie critic

Many questions linger after the close of "Original Sin," Michael Cristofer's overwrought bodice-ripper. For one, why was Angelina Jolie speaking in a plummy British accent, although her character is American?

Why would the plot's climax be dependent on the availability of a late-night pharmacy in turn-of-the-century Cuba?

Are there no decent dressmakers in Havana (hence Jolie's problem with dresses constantly slipping off her shoulders)?

Did Antonio Banderas use a butt double?

And why on Earth did this silly film get made?

"Original Sin"


*
With Angelina Jolie, Antonio Banderas, Thomas Jane. Written and directed by Michael Cristofer, based on a novel by Cornell Woolrich. 116 minutes. Rated R for strong sexual content and some violence. Various theaters.

The answer to the last question's easy enough: Clearly the filmmakers thought that the smoldering match-up of Jolie and Banderas, combined with period costumes and exotic scenery, would create erotic thrills and big box-office. Unfortunately the two are never convincing as a romantic pair, perhaps because their own real-life Hollywood marriages have been so widely and tediously reported. I kept picturing Billy Bob Thornton and Melanie Griffith skulking around the set, jaws clenched, during the many bedroom scenes, or perhaps going out for a drink (which was what I kept wanting to do throughout the movie).

"Original Sin" kicks off with the arrival of Julia (Jolie) in Cuba as the bride of Luis (Banderas), a coffee merchant, and the two promptly get busy steaming up the sheets (you don't see too many naughty bits, but one does wonder how much airbrushing was needed to erase Jolie's famous tattoos).

Unfortunately, poor Luis is kind of an idiot, and seems blind to all sorts of bad signs, such as the scars on Julia's back, her interest in his bank accounts, the trunk that she refuses to open, and her mysterious connection to what seems to be a second-rate road company of "Phantom of the Opera." Not to mention that we keep getting flash-forward scenes of Jolie jailed and wearing a headscarf, so obviously something quite awful took place.

Anyway, quicker than you can say "Who killed that bird?" a private detective turns up (Thomas Jane, with a curly mustache and even curlier upper lip), Julia vanishes, and off we go on a not-so-merry chase, as Luis pursues her in order to kill her and/or have sex with her (it's not quite clear).

The second half of the movie is a blur of dead bodies coming back to life, people who aren't who they seemed to be, and Jolie delivering all her lines very, very slowly, as if they'd make more sense that way.

Like its lead actors, "Original Sin" looks great. Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (who most recently shot the remarkable "Amores Perros") creates a lovely, faded-looking atmosphere. And the locations — with Mexico standing in for Cuba — are evocative. But "Original Sin" is really about murky storytelling, bad dialogue and arty close-ups of Jolie's formidable lips. (There's also a moment when the camera lingers on a cigar cutter — hmm, what can this mean?)

It's meant to be a thriller, but the only suspenseful moment comes quite late in the film, when it appears that a door is being left open for a sequel. Frankly, I was terrified, but mercifully all was resolved.

Moira Macdonald can be reached at 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

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