The Devil's Advocate

Nashville Scene

DIRECTED BY: Taylor Hackford

REVIEWED: 10-27-97

In a recent episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, a character described George Clooney's acting style thusly: "Head bob, smile, head bob, head bob, smile." That puts Clooney's acting range about five gestures ahead of Keanu Reeves. As an uptight lawyer who falls under Satan's spell in The Devil's Advocate, Reeves goes beyond stiff to create a new standard for screen rigidity. He's a cross between a plywood golem and a cereal-box cutout of Al Gore.

To be fair, Reeves is working at a disadvantage: Nobody told him he was making a comedy. Who knew? The Devil's Advocate starts out as a Grisham-esque courtroom drama, detours into splattery horror, and winds up as a hooty kitschfest, as Reeves is seduced into the inner sanctum of "John Milton" (tee-hee), a high-powered attorney who caters to the world's agents of disorder. After plucking Reeves from a low-level Florida courtroom, Milton, played by Al Pacino, ensconces him and his wife in a posh Manhattan apartment and bedazzles them with high living. Soon, however, the young marrieds are receiving subtle hints that something is awry--for one thing, all their newfound friends keep morphing into reptilian gargoyles.

The first half of the movie is trashy fun, but the director, Taylor Hackford, spoils it with needlessly gory violence, dopey sexism, and cornball shock effects. In interviews, Pacino has claimed that the movie is intended to be funny, but it's hard to laugh when the one genuinely likable character gets raped and beaten and has her ovaries ripped out. In place of a coherent tone, Hackford ladles a generic big-budget gloss over horror, farce, and domestic drama alike. The entire movie appears to have been doused with floor wax.

In Speed and A Walk in the Clouds, Reeves was well cast in roles that emphasized his endearingly dorky earnestness. Here, though, his gung-ho seriousness makes him look like the butt of a massive practical joke. He wouldn't seem so wooden if he hadn't been paired with Pacino, who trundles out his entire wardrobe of oddball mannerisms: the juicy cackle, the shouted emphaSES that COME out of noWHERE, the line read...ings frac...tured by weird...pauses. Pacino's hambone glee is something to see, but his mugging turns the movie into instant camp. We have seen the ruler of hell, and he is Cosmo Kramer.

As Reeves' wife, the exciting new actress Charlize Theron is touching and sympathetic--so much so that you dislike the movie even more when you see what it has in store for her. Or maybe it doesn't. (You know a movie is creatively bankrupt when it swipes a plot device from Dallas.) Apart from Theron's presence, some of Pacino's more amusing outbursts, and Bruno Rubeo's ornate production design, The Devil's Advocate is notable only for the real-life celebrities who, for God knows what reason, agreed to appear as Satan's associates: Don King, music attorney Alan Grubman, and Sen. Alphonse D'Amato. Someone should warn the Devil he's keeping some pretty sleazy company.

--Jim Ridley

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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