Saturday, May 29, 2010

The whole nine yards...

...all the better to hang yourself with.
I've been delaying the inevitable: reviewing the terrible The Ninth Gate
I wanted to like this movie, I really did. I love Roman Polanski. I love Johnny Depp. It seemed only logical that the combination of them and a movie about the gate to hell would be awesome.

But it's just not. Johnny Depp is great as Dean Corso. Polanski gives us a wonderful winding mystery tour in candle-lit and shadowy old buildings. And as far as secret religious message movies go, The Ninth Gate kicks the crap out of The Da Vinci Code. Because watching Johnny Depp in a not-so-great movie about the occult is better than watching a doughy Tom Hanks in a painfully bad movie about how the last scion of Christ can't defend herself and needs a pudgy middle-aged college professor to save her from bad guys.

The problem with The Ninth Gate is that Polanski's movies usually have a great ending. A big payoff for all that suspense and tension he's been building up over the last two hours. But The Ninth Gate doesn't have a payoff. It's like sitting through near three Jodie-Foster-filled hours of Contact and not even getting to see any aliens!
You spend two hours on the edge of your seat as Corso unravels the mystery of ancient engravings said to lead to the gate of hell. There is murder, mystery, intrigue, and supernatural forces. You're waiting and waiting for something big to happen, but the most climactic thing that happens is Frank Langella lights himself on fire and Johnny Depp has graphic sex with Polanski's wife, Emmanuelle Seiger, next to a burning castle. But then it doesn't end. You think "Here we go... here's the big finish..." and then... nothing!
We get no answers, in particular why a former skeptic- or any sane person for that matter- would want to cross the ninth gate to hell. Granted, Corso isn't supposed to be likable, and that's part of the reason this movie doesn't work, but it still defies logic. Is Corso under the impression that something great is going to happen if he enters hell or conjures Satan? Did he think "Gee, being chased and almost murdered by crazy Satan worshippers was so great, I'd like to meet their boss!"??? I know he's a greedy mercenary, but he's supposed to be a smart greedy mercenary. And anyone with half a brain knows that no one ever gets anything good out of a deal with the devil.
My other issue is that this movie is incredibly cheesy. Rosemary's Baby's creepy cult worked because you didn't see them do any of the cheesy hooded-cloak-chanting-blood-drinking weird stuff. And it seems like the film-noir style of this movie is almost cartoonish. I could only accept this movie if it's meant as a winking satire to the whole occult genre, but it's not. It's like Polanski's Temple of Doom, except devoid of campy charm.

I can best sum up The Ninth Gate in relating this real-life exchange between Dan and I:
Me: (walking into the living room after showering and getting dressed) "What are you watching? Ugh! You're watching The Ninth Gate?"
Dan: "Yeah, why?"
Me: "This movie is awful."
Dan: "I've never seen it. Why, what happens?"
Me: "Nothing happens."
Dan: "What do you mean?"
Me: "I mean nothing happens."
Dan: "Oh, stop it."
(Here, Dan insists we can't leave until the movie is over. So I sit down, comforted only by the fact that he'll realize I'm right in about 20 minutes. So 20 minutes pass.)
Dan: "Who's that girl? Isn't she the one he had sex with? What's going to happen?"
Me: "Nothing. Nothing is going to happen."
Dan: "Stop it! What's really going to happen??"
Me: "Nothing!"
(and then the credits roll after Corso walks through the gate)
Dan: "That's it?!!"
Me: "I told you."
Dan: "You don't get to see hell or the devil, or why he's going in there?"
Me: "Nope."
Dan: "That's lame!"
Me: "Yes. Yes it is."

Trying to explain the criminally unsatisfying end of the movie is like playing some cruel real-life version of "Who's on First?". No one is going to believe the answer, even though it's true.

Some critics say that this movie is underrated and will develop a cult following. Theonly reason I believe that is because every movie featuring a cult develops a cult following. Weird, but true.

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