Before you get your hopes up (your hopes are not up), this isn't necessarily going to be a recurring feature at F This Movie!, mostly because I write enough recurring features already. I'll bring it back from time to time when I feel like talking about The Rainmaker or Payback or Birthday Girl or some other movie no one cares about. These movies that I'll be writing about (again, from time to time) are not movies that I love; those have their own recurring column. These are movies I really like, but they're the kinds of movies you might only leave on if you stumble across them on TBS or TNT at 2 a.m. on a Sunday, where they live on in rotation. These are not necessarily movies you would make it a point to seek out -- at least, not until I've had my say.
First up is Playing God, a quickly-forgotten crime drama from 1997 that was supposed to turn David Duchovny into a movie star but wound up disappearing from theaters in just a couple of weeks, recouping only a third of its already-low $12 million budget. I remember seeing it the night it opened and liking it, which makes me the only one. It was among the first movies I ever bought on DVD, which might say more about the timing of its release than my own burning need to own it; still, it's a movie I've seen a handful of times and liked it every time, wondering why it isn't thought of more fondly before having to remind myself every time that it isn't thought of at all. This is a movie with a 14% Rotten Tomatoes score.
Playing God was David Duchovny's first big starring role after hitting it big on The X-Files (a show I still have every intention of working through the whole way but have only seen the first and last seasons). It feels like it. The mid-'90s were full of movies designed to turn TV stars into movie stars, many starring cast members from Friends. Apparently it was shot in 1995 but shelved until 1997 because of bad responses from test audiences, who may have been more interested in watching Duchovny chase aliens and bust up paranormal conspiracies than carry a shotgun down the L.A. freeway.
Besides being the first of several movies that failed to make David Duchovny a movie star (others include Return to Me, which is delightful, and Evolution, which is not), Playing God also features one of the first starring roles for a young Angelina Jolie, who plays Raymond's girlfriend and was a few years off from winning an Oscar and becoming a household name. She looks totally different here; her lips are still swollen, but her face is fuller, her nose broader. She's not given much to do but still makes a big impression; you walk away from the movie wanting to know her name. Perhaps the filmmakers didn't do their box office chances any favors by cutting out her two sex scenes (shots of which can be seen in the trailer), but it's right for the movie.
or "Life is all a matter of perspective...if your life was going along well and you found yourself walking with two guys who look like Metallica rejects, you might think it was a bad day. On the other hand, if your life is in the toilet and you had a nasty Fenatyl Citrate hangover, you could say 'What the hell? I am at the beach.'"
Is this great dialogue? Maybe not. No one is going to confuse it for Billy Wilder. But there's a wit and a deadpan sarcasm (because David Duchovny) that makes the movie pop more than one would expect. There are colorful supporting performances from Michael Massee playing the world's most eccentric FBI agent and John Hawkes as half of a pair of stupid surfer stick-up men. Then there's Timothy Hutton, clearly having a blast playing a bad guy and going predictably over the top. I'd be annoyed if it wasn't so goddamn entertaining. I love the way he throws a tantrum after someone he cares about has been shot and screams out "I fucking hate people!" It's a funny line, but more than that it's an honest moment. Most famously perhaps (he said, knowing that there's technically nothing "famous" about Playing God) is the moment in which Raymond is outrunning the police and yells out "THIS IS A CAR CHASE!" His gleeful self-awareness is infectious. It didn't lead to any more bad guy roles for Dalton, an underrated actor who I suspect is a victim of success that came too soon (he won an Oscar for his first movie), but his work here is a lot of fun. Just overlook his oversized shiny shirts and bleached tips. It was the mid '90s.
Have I sold you on Playing God? Probably not. But I'm not sure that's my goal. I mean, if everyone started loving it I don't think the "nobody cares" angle would work anymore. It's just one of those movies that I've always liked but never get to talk about with anyone because they've a) never bothered to see it or b) saw it but can't remember five minutes of it. If either is the case, consider checking it out. It's a cool movie.
Playing God is available on Blu-ray as a double feature with Color of Night for less than five bucks, so even if you don't like it you can always switch over and watch Bruce Willis fuck an elf in the shower.