A film review by Craig J. Koban June 6, 2011



2011, PG-13, 116 mins.


Mickey Rourke:  Nate /  Megan Fox: Lily  / Bill Murray: Happy Shannon  / Rhys Ifans: Sam 

Written and directed by Mitch Glazer 

PASSION PLAY is a film of such unrelenting absurdity and festering incompetence that it almost becomes an unimaginably perverse enigma: what potential emotional or artistic motive was there by its makers and stars to feel that there was material here worthwhile investing in?

This film is like one of those Rorschach ink blot tests: you stare at it, think about it, and then desperately attempt to come to some sort of understanding about what it is and what it means.  All I took from PASSION PLAY are two things: (a) it is a work of soul-sucking awfulness and (b) it marks the directorial debut of Mitch Glazer and it is made in such a manner that it almost appears that he wants a 100 per cent guarantee that he will not be given any more offers to make another film ever again. 

A “Passion Play” is a dramatic presentation of the passion of Jesus Christ, his trial, suffering, crucifixion, and death.  If Glazer’s PASSION PLAY is attempting to find some sort of Christ-like analogies of death and resurrection than – call me a lunatic – but I was terribly hard pressed to find them.  The film certainly takes itself as solemnly as a traditional passion play, which only has the side effect of making it even more unintentionally hilarious.  This miscalculation of Biblical proportions has every head-shakingly preposterous element one could dream of: circus freak shows, carnies, gangsters, jazz trumpet players, seedy hotels and bars, white-clad Apache ninjas, and, yes, Megan Fox with wings…literally.    

Nate (a barely audible and emotive Mickey Rourke) is a small time jazz musician that looks like he has been on one bender too many…or it just looks that way because he’s played by Mickey Rourke.  One night he is abducted by an armed man and driven to the desert where he is asked to get down on his knees and await what will most likely be a bullet to his head.  Nate has had some nasty dealings with a local gangster named Happy Shannon (Bill Murray, looking positively comatose all throughout), which has essentially got him to where he is in the desert.  However, just as he is about to be placed six feet under, Nate’s captor and would-be-murderer is shot dead by…Apache Ninjas (no…seriously…apache ninjas) who then escape into the hills and are never heard from again.  If that sounds perplexing enough…I have not even scratched this film’s inane surface. 

Nate attempts to get to a phone to call for help (no easy feat in the desert) and he eventually stumbles on to a Mexican circus run by deliriously evil Sam (Rhys Ifans).  Why this circus is in the middle of the desert is not fully explained, but what Nate does find himself attracted to is one of the freak show’s main attractions, a Bird Lady named Lily (Megan Fox) that, despite looking hot, has wings.  Akin to what you’d find in a peep show, Lily is displayed as a prop behind a window and, for one dollar, any patron can get a good look.  Even after Nate’s viewing he finds himself drawn to this very strange woman. 

He finds and confronts Lily back at her trailer, where it becomes apparent that she really does have wings.  She remains a chillingly indifferent and soft-spoken soul, but she does manage to allow Nate in for a drink.  As he begins to learn her story Nate begins to conceive of a plan that will rescue her from the debasing ordeal of being a sideshow attraction, but Lily initially will have nothing of it.  Slowly, though, Lily lets her defensive guard down and allows Nate to help her with escaping the circus and living a normal life.  As the pair gets more acquainted and begins to fall for one another, Nate makes a colossal blunder when he attempts to make a deal with Happy where the two will profit from Lily’s unique gifts, which in turn will get Nate off the hook with Happy.  The mobster, however, has his own slimy vision as to what to do with the innocent and emotionally troubled Lily. 



Let me get this off my chest, and I want to emphasize this without any seeming like I’m engaging in wild hyperbole: I have never seen a more hopelessly mismatched and implausible on-screen couple than Fox and Rourke.  Period.  Perhaps it stems from the fact that there is no real reason why a beauty like Lily would ever, ever fall in love with the grisly, monosyllabic, gruff, and – no disrespect, Mr. Rourke – wholeheartedly unattractive Nate.  This, of course, leads to some of the most feigned in and forced chemistry in recent film history.  Nate and Lily become confidants and lovers not because of some sort of connection they have, but more because the screenplay needs them to be.   

When the pair do kiss and eventually consummate their relationship with a PG-13-ified sex scene, I found myself cringing more than becoming deeply aroused.  The terms Megan Fox and sex scene are limitlessly appealing, but when she plays things opposite of Rourke – who looks old enough to be her grandfather – all the eroticism is woefully drained.  That, and the sight of pathetically rendered CGI wings being groped and annoyingly covering Ms. Fox’s endowments is both hysterical and disappointing.  It’s also not assisted by the pair’s performances: Rourke is such an unappealingly moping presence in the film that you have to remind yourself that he’s the so-called hero and Fox’s entire performance consists of her posing, pouting and attempting to emote, all with Razzie-award nomination worthy success. 

PASSION PLAY generates so much laughter in all the wrong moments that it deserves some sort of merit badge of shame.  I howled at one moment when Rourke makes a dismal attempt at miming that he’s playing the trumpet (he is never once credible as a music man).  Then there are the frequent shots of Lily’s wings and a few shots showcasing her attempts to achieve an angelic-like lift-off that are real knee slapping howlers.  Some individual dialogue exchanges are invoked with Ed Wood Jr. levels of success.  My favourite involves a plastic surgeon – after looking at Lily’s unique condition – nonchalantly stating, “Amazing as she is, her wings are not normal.”  Then there are the most basic of camera compositions and shots that are so obviously the process of ineptly harnessed green screens that mocking their fakery becomes a giddy pleasure.  Lastly, there is the film’s conclusion, during which – I think – Rourke’s Nate goes through some sort of Christ-like progression through anguish and redemption.  Uh huh.  If the inordinately dumb conclusion of the film does not have you rolling your eyes, then the script’s horribly desperate attempts at probing for a religious angle to Nate’s quest is almost more head slapping. 

There are only two good things about this straight-to-video crapfest, and giving it that moniker is an insult to direct-to-video crapfests.  One: PASSION PLAY is mercifully short at 90 minutes.  Two: Fox is, as an object of ogling desire, nice to look at.  Beyond that, there is nothing really to tangibly recommend in PASSION PLAY.  The end credits of the film has a dedication by Glazer, which considering the final product is akin to auditory and ocular trauma, not to mention insulting the deceased he's dedicating the film to.  Even more peculiar is Rourke’s response to the film itself both in the past and more  recently.  Well before its unveiling at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival – which ended in disaster – Rourke stated that Fox was “probably the best young actress” he’s ever worked with.  Riiiigggghhht.  He recently atoned for those comments.   In response to the questions as to why the film tanked during its very limited theatrical release this year, he rather pointedly retorted, “Because it’s not very good.”   

Redemption achieved, Mr. Rourke

  H O M E