You ever have a friend or co-worker who says, “Come see my [insert personal artistic activity here] next week, it’s gonna be amazing!” And it could be their acoustic Lady Gaga tribute band or one-man show about when they discovered a sexual attraction to wedding centerpieces or a poetry slam where they perform sonnets about puppet rape? Something deeply personal but completely baffling. That’s kind of what Mitch Glazer did with Passion Play. It’s a ridiculous pseudo-metaphorical journeyman’s quest executed with all the finesse of a T-Rex using a Tommy gun. It’s dreary, lagging, and ineffectual, like a junkie after their heroin injection. The performances seem like friends doing huge favors, “drive me to the airport so I can pick up my father’s ashes” or “keep the car running while I run inside and score some meth” favors. I’m sure this is deeply meaningful to Mitch Glazer, the man whose resume reads like an application for admittance to Oregon State Hospital: The Recruit, the Paltrow/Hawke update of Great Expectations, and Scrooged, but goddammit, it doesn’t mean we should have to suffer through it. I don’t begrudge anyone taking photographs and keeping them in an album, but that doesn’t mean I have to watch the slideshow when I’ve got better things to do that slog through some goony-ass allegory staged like someone transcribing a staticky reading of Hunter S. Thompson by someone who’s clearly drunk or high or something.
How dumb is it? Holy shit, kids, buckle your bumper cars. Here’s the tagline: An angel under the thumb of a ruthless gangster is saved by a trumpet player down on his luck. First, if only this were true, maybe it would have been alright. But only the dumbest nouns of this sentence end up in the film and end up in the plot. Here’s what really happens: a junkie jazz trumpeter named Nate (Mickey Rourke) gets driven out to the desert to get shot and killed at the request of a debonair gangster named Happy Shannon (Bill Murray) because he was shtupping the boss’s wife. Cornered, Nate’s saved when his assassin is shot full of holes by a wandering army of white-clad Native Americans, who steal his car. Nate wanders the desert, until he crests a hill and finds a traveling circus and sideshow run by Sam (Rhys Ifans). Begging for the phone, Nate wanders through the sideshow tent to discover Lily (Megan Fox), a real-life winged angel. Megan Fox’s face is perfect in this moment, as she stands regretfully in a red-sequined top forced to dance behind a window under Christmas lights for cragged faced elders much more talented than she. It’s like glimpsing her future.
Let’s discuss the phrase “for some fucking reason.” That’s pretty much the way Glazer’s script runs. Rather than any sort of motivation, logic, or explanation, many of the events in the script seem to occur “for some fucking reason.” Instead of calling for help, Nate decides to try to get into Lily’s trailer to have a drink of warm gin. Sam finds Nate’s presence a threat, thinks he’s going to try to steal Lily from him, and tries to kill him, only to have Lily bust in with a pickup truck and steal Nate and drive him to … a city that might be Vegas or Reno or who the fuck knows? There’s snow, and they refer to going back to the states, but whether they are in Mexico or Canada, I couldn’t fucking begin to tell you.
At this point, the movie plays out like someone pulled scenes out of the film because they needed to lay down “rummy” in a corrupt retirement home game where you’re only playing to idle until death. Things keep happening, totally arbitrarily, and even when they try to inject levity, everything’s bogged down with this dreariness. It’s like watching a Wes Anderson film without any of the quirky charm. You get the feeling that much of the film was improvised, because they honestly didn’t have anything better to do. It’s masquerading as a dramatic romance or worse a dreary love story, but it’s more or less a group of seedy, undeserving, despicable old men trying to claim the kewpie doll carnival prize.
Mickey Rourke’s kind of playing himself now, pretending to be who he used to be before he got dogs, but they gave him a trumpet mouthpiece and told him “trumpet player…go!” They dressed Bill Murray up like Peter Bogdanovich, and gave him all three of the cherry lines. The part clearly wasn’t written for Murray, but he makes it his own, and it’s pretty nifty. Glazer casts his wife, Kelly Lynch, as Harriet, a character that appears because Glazer couldn’t make her the angel or the gangster. To give you an idea of how in depth they’ve styled her, she could either be Nate’s sister, ex-wife, or simply good friend. She sort of deus ex hookers herself in situations, mostly on the other end of phone calls with Nate where she struts about scantily clad, drinking or smoking. She’s some sort of burlesque chanteuse, maybe? Rhys Ifans has fun chasing Bill Nighy for the Most Sinister Blonde British Character Actor crown. Sam’s just an awful character, and Ifans makes the best of it.
And then there’s Megan Fox. Teeing off against Miss Plastic Fantastic is old hat by now, and I kind of feel like Barry Bonds playing in a T-Ball tournament going up against her. But aside from the intriguing cast wasting their time, that’s all you want from this film? Is Megan Fox bad? I gave her the benefit of the doubt, despite Michael Bay lambasting her. But, dear sweet baby Jesus who lives in a cloud crib 16 miles above Memphis, it’s astonishing how bad she is. I assume she took this role to be “taken seriously” as an actress rather than to have the opportunity to face-suck craggy faced men three times her senior. Her agent handed her the script and said, “It’s a poor imitation of a David Lynch film, but you’re only a poor imitation of a real actress, so reach for the stars!” Fox Jennifers her way through the film, trying to look like Jennifer Connelly while adapting Jennifer Tilly’s simpering baby-doll voice. Like Icarus, the winged woman crashes and drowns in every scene. She can barely tread water with the talent around her, even when they’re ordering from Hammacher Schlemmer out of frame. And to be perfectly crass, you’d think she’d have the common decency to at least take her fucking clothing off. Sure it didn’t work for Jessica Biel, but hey, she’s actually got occasional talent.
The only reason you want to watch Passion Play is if you want to see the most infuriating cheat ending of all time. I realized what was going on from the first few scenes, but thought, no, surely a screenwriter directing his first film wouldn’t stoop to this chicanery. But then you gotta ask yourself: If a man writes such terrible films that have attracted mad talent over the years, and still somehow manages to find someone else to direct them, how bad does it have to be that he would direct it himself? And the final answer is, “Passion Play bad.” There’s neither passion nor play at hand in the entire script. So in case you were lured by the siren song of Mickey Rourke and Bill Murray as was I, let me save you time and effort. This is a film so terrible that you would actually expend the effort to call up Netflix and demand that they issue you some form of credit refund for the hours you wasted on the film. Even if it amounted to only a few meager cents, you would still insist on principle.