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Angels in heaven
Playing god, 1997

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Isn't it strange how movie characters can walk around in crowded places openly brandishing guns without calling attention to themselves, while I get pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt? Maybe it's not so strange when you're dealing with glib, self-absorbed quasi-noir like Playing God, where attitude and posture count more than substance, and where blood-spraying bullet wounds are relentlessly inflicted merely because the screenwriter (Mark Haskell Smith) hasn't got any better ideas. Routine, brief, and nonresonant, Playing God is the latest post-Tarantino "ironic" crime comedy, tailor-outfitted as a vehicle for X-Files star David Duchovny.

Duchovny plays Eugene, a junkie surgeon superstar fallen on seriously bad times, having been stripped of his license for operating high as a kite and killing a patient. While scoring dope in his favorite secret nightclub, Eugene happens to spot two thugs gunning down a third thug; and after only a few moments' reverie, he jury-rigs a life-support system for the guy and saves him. As a result, Eugene is summarily invited to be the Mob doctor for Raymond Blossom (Timothy Hutton), a wealthy black market kingpin who, it seems, is perpetually in need of someone to stitch up bullet holes in his henchmen. The prototypical passive guy in the middle, Eugene must juggle his own self-destructiveness, Raymond's chores, the propositions of the FBI, and his affection for Claire (Angelina Jolie), Raymond's moll.

Like a snake swallowing its tail, postmod irony has come right back around to granddaddy Raymond Chandler, with whom it should have died. (That's why Pulp Fiction was so much fun--Tarantino's scumbags didn't talk tough, they talked hootenanny.) Like Romeo Is Bleeding and Things To Do in Denver When YouĘre Dead before it, Playing God is painfully entranced with its own tough-talking way with the-world-is-a-cesspool metaphors (especially in its narration), and even when it succeeds in amusing us, it's nothing we haven't heard a zillion times before. Clichés are okay if they're nailed to something solid, but director Andy Wilson's movie is all vogue and gunplay.
Nearly everybody in Playing God gets shot, and Eugene gets sticky with the blood. The crispy witticisms are all that's keeping this movie on its feet, and thus it is as prime a vehicle for Duchovny as there ever will be. The many moods of Duchovny range from taciturn to laconic, and--lucky for everyone concerned--his sleepy delivery is what the lines need. Jolie, with no part to speak of, eats up the film with her huge apple-shaped face. I could believe Duchovny as an embittered ex-doctor, but Timothy Hutton as a powerful psycho Mobster? Is there anyone in Hollywood less threatening than Hutton? Seeing these two dangerous hombres face off against each other on the beach--"Are you going to hurt me?" "Why? Because you're afraid, or because you want me to?" "I'm just trying to plan my day"--you feel like you're watching a student film starring geeky sophomores. In all other aspects, Playing God is glossy and seamless, its filmmakers apparently quite unaware they should've been trying for quite a bit more.