DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
FALLEN (director: Gregory Hoblit; screenwriter: Nicholas Kazan; cinematographer: Newton Thomas Sigel; editor: Lawrence Jordan; cast: Elias Koteas (Edgar Reese), Denzel Washington (John Hobbes), John Goodman (Jonesy), Donald Sutherland (Lt. Stanton), Embeth Davidtz (Gretta Milano), James Gandolfini (Lou), Robert Joy (Charles), Gabriel Casseus (Art ), Michael J. Pagan (Sam); Runtime: 127; Warner/ Turner/Atlas; 1998)

 
"Denzel's noir-like voiceover seemed like an imitation of how a real noir film does a voiceover."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It takes too much of a suspension of disbelief to get into this flick. The premise is that the devil is in our heads and was placed there by ordinary contact with others (it spreads like germs). Nevertheless this hokum is played with zeal and candor by Denzel Washington, who is the squeaky clean super Detective John Hobbes. He works with his partner of 12+ years, Jonesy (John Goodman), on homicides. But the occult thriller takes too long to develop (over two hours) and when it finally gets to where it is going, the place it ends up is nowhere.

The film is basically a horror film teaser, trying to say something about Azazel that it really can't say without sounding ridiculous. It uses the Rolling Stones' 1960s theme song of "Time is on my side" to make it become indelibly linked with all the serial murders and tries to give the film a noir feel, with a constant voiceover by Denzel trying to explain how incredible it is that his life is falling apart. There is also heavy use of fuzzy camera images to indicate that the devil was being photographed from his point of view. These shots of the devil's viewpoint were overworked into the script to the point of overkill. The film worked only on a superficial level as light entertainment and should be given credit for, at least, attempting to have a literate script. It is an escapist film and the only thing it proved, was that time wasn't on its side.

The film opens with a flashback and voiceover by Detective Hobbes: "I want to tell you about the time I almost died,'' and then he tells of the events that led up to the dire predicament he now is in. We see him crawling on his hands and knees in an isolated snowy area in the woods. It then cuts to Death Row where a killer, Reese (Elias Koteas), is about to go to the gas chamber. His death is being filmed by the ACLU. Hobbes is among the witnesses to the execution and sees the killer in his cell before he is brought out to the gas chamber, where the killer sings to him "Time is on my side," mumbles some mumbo jumbo, grabs the detective's hand, and tells him a riddle: "Where is there a space between Lyons and Spakowsky?" The camera shot of his death in the gas chamber shows his physical death, but there is a point-of-view aerial shot that reveals that the evil spirit is loose. In seconds, the spirit climbs into the body of its next victim and takes him over. Thus, we have all been duly prepped for the supernatural part of the story to follow.

Hobbes then returns to the police station in Philadelphia, which he loves so much. We see him smugly on TV as the hero cop who made the pinch of the executed killer; we see him happily at home with his brother and nephew; and, then we see him interact good-naturedly with his co-workers, his boss--the reticent Lieutenant Stanton (Donald Sutherland), his good friend Jonesy, and a sleazy cop, Lou (Gandolfini), who tries to ride him for being a saint. These scenes have a good feel to them as they are grounded in reality and capture the feel of the detective world Hobbes inhabits.

Soon Hobbes begins receiving late night hang-up phone calls, just like Reese used to do to him. Then a copycat killer starts working on apparently random victims, as the police can find no motives for the crime. A corpse is found in a bathtub while the killer strangely stayed for breakfast, being in no rush to leave the apartment. Hobbes notices that the dead man in the bathtub is the same man who brushed past him last night, noticeably trying to draw his attention. The linguist brought into the case says that the words on the videotape of Reese were spoken in ancient Aramaic, a language not spoken in the last two thousand years.

Warning: spoiler to follow in next paragraph.

Through the inadvertent help of Lou, Hobbes discovers the answer to Reese's riddle is on the wall plaque for hero cops in the stationhouse. The missing name between Lyons and Spakowsky is of a former hero policeman, who was later accused of being a serial killer and committed suicide. Hobbes researches the cop's name on an Internet search engine and then contacts the policeman's daughter, Gretta Milano (Embeth Davidtz), to ask her why her father went to his country house to commit suicide. When Hobbes visits the country house, he finds books on the occult and the word Azazel written on the dusty wall.

Ms. Milano, who conveniently happens to be a professor of theology, tells Hobbes: "If you value your life, if there's even one human being you care about, walk away from this case." But it is too late for the detective, as his fingerprints are found in two serial murders uncovered and he is being falsely accused of these crimes just like her father was.

By this time, the story lost its base of reality. The evil spirit that couldn't die moves from person to person and there is a chase scene in a crowd where the possessed pursuer could be anyone, which was exciting to watch but added little to the meaning of the story.

Denzel's noir-like voiceover seemed like an imitation of how a real noir film does a voiceover. He was also not convincing as a noir protagonist, he seemed more like a cop who was in a horror movie but might have been better off being in a straight movie about a cop being framed by corrupt cops. The premise was too silly to take seriously. 

REVIEWED ON 3/26/2000         GRADE: C

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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