by E.T. Robbins
Is the temptation worth the price of admission?
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If your mother told you once, your mother told you a million times: mail-order brides are just a bad idea. Advice Antonio Banderas could have used in the lust-filled flick Original Sin. Based on the Cornell Woolrich novel Waltz Into Darkness, and written for the screen by director Michael Cristofer, this film asks an important question: at what point can you walk away from love?
Banderas plays Luis, a wealthy coffee bean plantation owner in late 19th century Cuba. Unsatisfied with what his native land has to offer him in terms of a wife, he puts an ad in an American newspaper. He is not looking for love, or so he claims, but rather someone who is “kind, true, and young enough to bear children.” He receives a response from a woman in Delaware. Expecting an unattractive but loyal wife in Julia Russell (based on pictures and letters that had been exchanged between the two), Luis is surprised when Angelina Jolie washes up on shore looking nothing like the photograph. Jolie explains it away easily, claiming she didn’t want Luis to choose her because of her pretty face. This is why she sent him the photo of a plain woman instead. When the deceit begins in the first two minutes of conversation between a man and a woman, it is never a good thing.
Of course, Luis dismisses this fact and the two marry immediately. A love scene bordering on soft porn will have the hearts beating fast in men and women. Now don’t get me wrong, I like Antonio Banderas’ butt as much as the next girl, but give me a better reason than a little bedtime magic for Luis’ sudden love-philosophy change. It’s important for the audience to believe Luis loves Julia if we are to believe everything else that is to follow. If you can buy that it’s love rather than lust, you might actually appreciate this film. Unfortunately the screenwriter exposes too much skin rather than character depth.
We know that Julia Russell isn’t who she says she is and that the words “scam artist” hang over her head like a dark cloud. At this point I feel like screaming, “Honey, you got the hottest guy in the western hemisphere willing to love you unconditionally AND give you complete access to his bank accounts (hint, hint)—not to mention the endless supply of fantastic coffee—what is the problem?” Maybe it’s not what you planned, but GO with it!
Of course, this doesn’t happen. This drama/mystery takes off the same at time that Julia Russell skips out on Luis. Bring in a shady guy named Billy (Thomas Jane) from Julia’s past, add a murder or two, perhaps a card game that goes awry, and don’t forget the rat poison. Combine this with a jilted lover and presto — the action never stops, although every provocative twist and turn can be seen coming from a mile away.
Did Original Sin keep my attention? Yes. Was the acting decent? Yes. So what’s the problem? The key to this film is for the audience to be given enough evidence to invest in the idea that the two main characters are in love and not in lust. There is a difference and the movie flirts with both sides. As to the question: At what point can you walk away from love? I guess that depends on how much of a glutton for punishment you are — Luis’ loyalty isn’t necessarily admirable. I believe most therapists would have two words for him: Dependency Issues. However, I am keeping in mind that this film is set in 19th century Cuba—head doctors and divorce courts were few and far between.
Antonio Banderas (The Mask of Zorro, Evita) plays the heartbroken Luis with sweet tenderness combined with the volatility of a lover scorned and all the sex appeal any hot-blooded woman could desire in a man.
As the wicked vixen, Jolie is delicious. It’s a part that she’s had time to perfect after appearing in other bad-girl roles in films like Gone In Sixty Seconds and Girl, Interrupted. She received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance in the latter. Her lush lips are always scene stealers and perhaps borderline distracting.
There is chemistry between Banderas and Jolie, something that will ultimately save the film from its sappy, wrap ‘em up nice, Hollywood endings. If you’re an Angelina Jolie fan, Original Sin is probably a few steps up from Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. If you enjoy Antonio Banderas, you get to see a lot of him in this flick. Because of its stars, Original Sin might make a good “date movie.” I guarantee that it will rid his mind of fantasies derived from ads in the back of men’s magazines about women from far-away lands. However, it won’t encourage him to propose any time soon. Or to share a bank account — ever.
E.T. Robbins is a freelance writer living in Boston, where she worked for a time at a local newspaper and at a local radio station.
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