The Devil's Advocate

Austin Chronicle

DIRECTED BY: Taylor Hackford

REVIEWED: 10-20-97

Al Pacino, Keanu Reeves, Charlize Theron, Jeffrey Jones, Judith Ivey, Craig T. Nelson. (R, 138 min.)

The Lawyer Joke, taken to its obvious conclusion... and at almost two-and-a-half hours it's a hell of a running gag. The Devil's Advocate is such a bloated, gargantuan, and ultimately tasteless juggernaut of a film that it manages to achieve a righteously cheesy splendor; rarely do we actually encounter such a brazen example of the "so bad it's good" genre of filmmaking. By the penultimate scene (extremely satisfying though it may be), director Hackford has pulled out all of the stops far past their legal limits, and it's all you can do not to cackle. Now that's entertainment. Reeves is once again saddled with an unwieldy accent (Southern) and a shocking inability to act (genetic) in his role as Kevin Lomax, a hotshot prosecuting attorney from Gainesville, Florida, who accepts an offer from a shady New York law firm whose chief is played by Al Pacino. Although this obvious step up fails to elicit any hallelujahs from his Bible-thumping, chicken-picking mother (Ivey), Kevin's perky, eager-to-breed wife Mary Ann (Theron) takes to New York like a mallard to Central Park, at least initially. As her husband's new caseload increasingly grows morally abstruse, and his hours at the firm lengthen until he's hardly home at all -- and what a gorgeous home it is -- she finds herself sinking into a pit of loneliness and despair, unable to connect with her new, firm-associated girlfriends and unwilling to return to Florida without her better half in tow. For his part, Kevin might as well be wearing blinders -- this new outfit positively drips evil and you can hear the patter of concentrated nastiness that accompanies every triumphal courtroom win or rises every time a lustful harlot-cum-secretary eyes Kevin's innocent Southern mug. It's Pacino's game all the way, though, and as firm head John Milton (!), he allows the ghastly, reptilian charm to flow like a river wild. Never has Pacino been so gleefully out-of-control. He holds absolutely nothing back here, relishing every wicked line and lustily sucking the marrow out of every scene. It may be the wittiest depiction of the Father of Lies I've ever seen. Hackford inexpertly allows the film to drag until midway through, and then it suddenly begins firing on all cylinders amidst a river of gore and frightful shenanigans. Until that point, he seems to be striving mightily to emulate the more sublime, sustained suspense of Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby, but he misses the mark again and again; Devil's Advocate is not a subtle beast by any stretch of the imagination. But when the film suddenly, unexpectedly kicks into high gear about midway through, it does so with crazed abandon, and Pacino's preening zest for his craft is a wonder to behold. It reaches up and out of the silly film it is confined within and grabs you and shakes you mercilessly, like a rag doll. Not since Scarface has the actor so clearly thrown himself, body and soul (or lack thereof), into a role. He's enjoying himself tremendously, and it shows. Devil's Advocate is a theological shipwreck of a film, ham-fisted and boorish at its best, but seeing Pacino leer and caper and set the holy water aboil in its fount is almost worth the price of Keanu. Almost. 2.0 stars

--Marc Savlov

Full Length Reviews
The Devil's Advocate
The Devil's Advocate
The Devil's Advocate

Capsule Reviews
The Devil's Advocate
The Devil's Advocate
The Devil's Advocate

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