Starring: Mickey Rourke, Megan Fox, Bill Murray, Rhys Ifans
Written and Directed by: Mitch Glazer
Make no mistake about it folks, Passion Play is one mess of a movie filled to the brim with inept dialogue, terrible acting, and woeful miscasting. But while some movies are bad to the point one starts to contemplate self-mutilation before the end credits start to roll, this one manages to be entertaining in a trainwreck sense and so patently ridiculous that laughing and yelling “WHAT THE HELL?!?” will become second nature by the end of its running time. Yes it’s terrible…but strangely enough, it’s also watchable if you like that sort of thing.
Passion Play stars Mickey Rourke as Nate Poole, an aging trumpet player who’s fallen on hard times. After accidentally sleeping with gangster Happy Shannon’s (Bill Murray) wife, he is taken out to the desert to be shot. But something miraculous happens: a group of people (Native Americans?) wearing white come out and save him from certain death…and also take his car. Wandering the desert, Poole ends up at a carnival sideshow in the middle of nowhere run by a man named Sam Adamo (Rhys Ifans, picking up some beer money). His star attraction is Lily Luster (Megan Fox), a woman who inexplicably has wings growing out of her back like an angel (or a bird as she calls it). Poole falls in love with her because he wants to have sex with her, and convinces her to leave the carnival and come with him. He’s got ulterior motives though, hoping to sell her to Shannon to spare his life. What follows is…I have no real goddamn idea to be honest.
Rourke falls back into old habits with Passion Play, taking the job for the paycheck and having it be painfully obvious through out. Although his natural talent keeps him afloat, the man is on autopilot through out the whole thing like he knew the movie was stupid and felt like nothing he could do would change that. Murray is ridiculously miscast as the “evil” gangster Happy Shannon and feels completely out of place here, and Ifans serves no purpose to the story other than to give Poole a place to find his winged object of affection. The only one here who seems to be trying is Fox, but she falls flat on her face due to both a terrible script and her general lack of talent at this point in her career (the blank stare she permanently has through out the whole movie is the stuff of nightmare. Her and Rourke’s romance lacks both chemistry and believability as well, which is pretty bad considering that’s supposed to be the emotional center of the whole story.
The script for Passion Play is wretched, and it’s hard to believe no one close to the project or to Glazer himself were able to see that. The dialogue is stilted and feels completely unnatural. Half the time it felt like the actors were ad-libbing because they had left the script in their trailer the night before and didn’t get a chance to memorize it. The way the story flows also feels completely out of whack, which may have been the point but even if it was, it’s not done in a competent way. The story also moves at a snails pace, taking time for a “See Poole Be Sad” montage that feels like padding and unnecessary characters thrown in just because. There’s a woman who’s friends with Poole, played by Kelly Lynch, that I’m still trying to figure out the point of. She just sort of exists as a random body for Poole to talk to. Passion Play is only 90 minutes long, but at around the 60 minute mark you’ll be surprised there’s still 30 minutes left to ring out of this story.
But despite all my qualms about the characters, the script, and all the negatives, part of me still enjoyed Passion Play. It just wasn’t for the reasons Glazer intended. Because of how terrible everything is, it’s hard to not start laughing at the more ludicrous moments. There are two scenes in particular that stick out: at one point Poole plays a little trumpet solo for Lily to woo her and it’s out there and funny in its pointlessness. There’s also a scene where Lily, who can’t fly despite her wings, jumps into the air and glides in the wind for a few seconds before toppling over. I don’t think I’ve laughed at any scene harder this year, from just how awkward it looked/felt to Rourke’s reaction to it. And although the screenplay is absolutely atrocious, it leads to some hilarious line readings by Murray who particularly is delicious in his miscasting. His informing of Poole that he has killed his wife for her adultery is priceless; laughing seems weird considering it’s supposed to show how evil Happy Shannon is, but that’s the kind of reaction this movie elicits.
Even though I found myself enjoying the absurdity and its strange watchability, there is no way I can call Passion Play anything but terrible. All the elements are just so bad that it baffles how/why this got made and how no one had the sense to put a stop to this. Even the actors involved, with the possible exception of Fox, know it and it shows through in their performances. Yes it’s fun in a trainwreck “WHAT JUST HAPPENED?!?” kind of way, but for people who don’t take joy in terrible movies, it’ll be a slog to get through and one that’s not honestly worth pursuing despite the cast and the interesting idea.