|Rating: * * *
Japanese title: Poison
Director: Michael Cristofer
Running time: 116 minutes
“Original Sin” is one of those dangerous movies that, in spite of the guffaws and gimme-a-breaks that define the viewing experience, will lodge itself in your brain and self-activate every time you have a date. In other words, despite common sense pleading with you to stop, no, don’t! — you will find yourself taking amorous cues from this movie.
Directed by Michael Cristofer and titled “Poison” in Japan, “Original Sin” is based on a 1947 novel by Cornell Woolrich called “Waltz Into Darkness,” a typical sampling of the noir-esque popular fiction of the era. Woolrich had a genius for weaving sexual obsession into crime motifs, depicting both as dark, unpredictable and terrifying. But Cristofer tones down the terror and highlights the sexuality that charges this film, thanks mainly to the centerpiece couple played by Angelina Jolie and Antonio Banderas.
And who can blame him? With these two together in a movie, why think about weighty psychological issues? No, better to concentrate on choreography instead: how they dance, how they embrace, how they walk toward each other through a crowded room. Among other things. And who cares what Woolrich intended? “Original Sin” is, in fact, one huge excuse for seeing how much spark Jolie and Banderas can emit from a single kiss and the rest, as they say, is purely secondary.
While it’s possible to go along with that, the basic premise robs the movie of any credibility or — dare I use the word? — depth. Just get a load of this: Luis (Banderas) is a wealthy coffee magnate in Cuba who lives on a huge estate and has everything he could wish for but a wife. Not believing in love, and thinking that all he wants is a sensible, American maiden to boost his prestige and bear his children, he puts out an ad in the papers. A Delaware lady called Julia answers, they correspond and decide to tie the knot. From her photo, Luis sees that Julia is rather plain but that’s OK, since, really, he doesn’t want, or believe in, love.
The woman (Jolie) who arrives at the pier, however, is totally different from the photo: She’s a dazzling beauty with the most provocative lips this side of the Atlantic. Apparently, Julia wanted to test him, to see whether he was the type of man who would fall for just a pretty face. Luis is entranced and falls headlong into love. She reciprocates, and the pair spend a deliriously sensual few weeks.
It turns out, though, that Julia was too good to be true. The real Julia is reported missing on the boat coming to Cuba, and the false Julia absconds with Luis’ entire fortune. He swears vengeance and tracks her down in Havana, deploying her outrageous beauty once again to stiff some poor sucker.
Julia confesses that her real name is Bonnie, she grew up as an orphan and now works scams with her lover/partner Billy (Thomas Jane). Luis’ resolve to get even collapses before his uncontrollable passion. He reunites with Bonnie, gets rid of Billy and adopts her criminal lifestyle because he can’t bear separation, not even for a minute. “You cannot walk away from love,” he keeps saying. “Whatever the price, you cannot walk away from love.”
That someone who looks and moves like Banderas would actually resort to a personals ad is the first stumbling block. And wouldn’t a wealthy magnate do some checking up before looking to marry a stranger off a boat? Oh, well. We asked similar questions when Richard Gere had to hire a prostitute to be his date in “Pretty Woman” and it didn’t matter, we still went to see the movie. Several times.
Which brings us to Murphy’s Law of Filmmaking: A bad movie doesn’t mean bad sales; a good movie often means just good reviews. What matters, of course, is chemistry. And let’s not forget both Banderas and Jolie could achieve chemistry with a cabbage if they had to, so imagine the effect of the pair together on the same screen: the equivalent of a mad scientist’s lab with smoke rising out of beakers, tubes exploding, etc. For the record, there was a collective sigh in the screening room when Banderas looked straight into the camera and whispered: “I want to give her everything. And I want to take everything from her.” Geez.