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Passion Play Blu-ray Review

Passion Play (2011) movie poster Passion Play

Theatrical Release: May 6, 2011 / Running Time: 94 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: Mitch Glazer

Cast: Mickey Rourke (Nate Poole), Megan Fox (Lily Luster), Bill Murray (Happy Shannon), Kelly Lynch (Harriet), Rory Cochrane (Rickey), Robert Wisdom (Malcolm the Monk), Chuck Lidell (Aldo), John Cenatiempo (Roland), Brian Doyle-Murray (Billy Berg), Susan Traylor (Red), Solomon Burke (Himself), Jimmy Scott (Himself), Rhys Ifans (Sam Adamo)

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Depending on who you believe, Megan Fox opted out of Transformers: Dark of the Moon or Michael Bay had her dropped from this forthcoming sequel. Either way, the last-minute change felt mutual, following comments by the actress likening the action-minded director to Hitler. The implication by the retaliatory Bay was that Transformers doesn't need Fox, a believable stance we'll never definitively be able to assess, since the series' second movie's mix of box office might and unbearableness makes declining returns inevitable even if the industry wasn't in the midst of a down year marked by quantifiable 3D resistance.

Perhaps Megan Fox doesn't need Transformers either. Her newest film, Passion Play, casts her in between Academy Award nominees Mickey Rourke and Bill Murray, two men who have withstood thirty years in the business with their credibility largely intact and their popularity at healthy levels.

Trumpet man Nate Poole (Mickey Rourke) is captivated by the stunning sight of winged sideshow angel Lily Luster (Megan Fox) in "Passion Play."

Rourke takes the lead in a role seemingly written for him with overtones of his decorated comeback turn in The Wrestler. Nate Poole is a washed-up and worn-out jazz trumpeter, who experienced some commercial success years back but presently struggles to make ends meet at a lounge club. For reasons that are not immediately clear, Nate is abducted and driven out to the desert to be killed. His life is improbably saved by an armed Native American at the right place and time.
Wandering away from the scene, Nate winds up at a traveling freak show, where his search for a phone instead brings him to Lily Luster (Fox), a young woman with angel wings. She actually claims to be "a bird woman" (not in the Home Alone 2 sense), but the angel imagery seems to be more salient and fitting. It is what Nate sees, especially when she saves him from his second life-jeopardizing moment of that day. And guess what? Her wings are real and they're spectacular.

Nate's situation is slowly demystified, as we discover that he recently slept with the wife of gangster Happy Shannon (Murray, a character reminiscent of his Mad Dog and Glory antagonist), an act that warrants a death sentence in ruthless Happy's book. While the equally damaged Nate and Lily enjoy each other's company in cheap motels, Nate secretly arranges a meeting with Happy to spare his life. He plans for them to share managing duties over Lily's deformity. What the wings might do for them (besides more unsavory freak shows) is unclear, but Happy is intrigued and instead decides to make Lily his live-in muse, an arrangement that makes lovelorn Nate's blood boil while he tries to steer clear of drugs that have already had a destructive impact on his life.

Passion Play is written and directed by Mitch Glazer. This stands as Glazer's directorial debut, but it is the third time he's written a movie for Bill Murray. Their prior outing, occurring 23 years ago, was the outstanding Scrooged. Though Glazer's co-writer, the late Michael O'Donoghue, supposedly wasn't pleased with it, I consider Scrooged one of the all-time great movies, full of humor and heart and better on every viewing. Unless you recognize Glazer's name (and you probably wouldn't, since his work has been scarce and in an odd assortment of genres), you'd never see a link to Scrooged in this, although Murray does play mean characters in both.

Mickey Rourke and Megan Fox make unusual bedfellows at a cheap motel. Bill Murray plays Happy Shannon, an ironically-nicknamed grumpy gangster who has a score to settle with Nate.

Passion Play is a drama and an utterly serious one at that. It takes its time to wallow in the mindsets of leading characters Nate and Lily, whose love is established as pure and therapeutic. Rourke and Fox are 34 years apart in age and, despite their shared tanness appreciation, they have very disparate looks about them, their documented plastic surgeries for different reasons yielding rather different results. And yet, the film manages to get you to overlook that, not even playing off the obvious beauty and the beast design of such a couple.

Artsy and independent, with a tone like David Lynch minus the dark comedy, Glazer's film is easy to get immersed in. It is much too easy while watching to forget that the movie hedges on the premise of Megan Fox having wings organically growing out of her back. There are unmistakable limits to such a concept and the film finds them.
Pay attention and you'll notice that the movie is at its best and most effective when it is saying nothing, letting you simply bear witness to the characters and imagine how they are feeling. The ending is many things, including cheesy, predictable, and inevitable. The few green screen and CGI visual effects are a bit lacking and less understandably so when you learn the estimated production budget was an ample $14 million (still only 3.5% of the numbers floating around for the third Transformers movie).

In spite of its problems, I don't hesitate to place more worth on Passion Play than on Megan Fox's two best-known movies. The thing is people like to watch those clanging alien robots clang and clang loudly. Passion Play is a much harder sell, which explains why it played in just two theaters for seven days earlier this month and grossed a meager $3,669. Distributor Image Entertainment rightfully expects the film to do most of its business on home video, where it arrives next Tuesday on DVD and Blu-ray.

Post-script: Has there ever been a more unlikely place for an "ALF" homage? Nate's supportive ex-wife (Glazer's real wife, Kelly Lynch) drinks Scotch named Gordon Shumway, just like the furry Melmacian star of that 1980s sitcom.

Passion Play Blu-ray cover art -- click to buy DVD from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extra Not Subtitled
Release Date: May 31, 2011
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.97
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available on DVD ($27.97 SRP)

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Blu-ray's 2.40:1 picture exhibits some probably deliberate grain on a number of scenes, but for the most part looks quite good, despite using barely half of BD-25 capacity. The film is not particularly picturesque, but the transfer renders it satisfactorily, with adequate detail of the unspecified geography (it was shot in New Mexico). The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio deserves even fewer complaints, for it does a nice job of distributing crisp dialogue, sound effects, and Dickon Hinchliffe's prominent score.

Did the "Passion Play" trailer see an alternate version of the 2009 Academy Awards in which Mickey Rourke beat Sean Penn? Lily and Nate share a tender moment behind the static cover poses of Mickey Rourke, Megan Fox, and Bill Murray on the Passion Play Blu-ray menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Not unusual for an Image Entertainment release, Passion Play is joined by just one bonus feature: its theatrical trailer (1:39). It's an understatement to say that I've grown immune to the charms of audio commentaries, but I suspect Glazer could have shared some interesting things in a short interview featurette.

The disc opens with unpromising trailers for Burning Palms, Wild Cherry, and The Violent Kind.

The Blu-ray's menu plays clips behind the static cover poses of the three leads. Though the disc does not support bookmarks, it resumes playback just like a DVD does.

Given an unlikely last minute reprieve, Nate Poole (Mickey Rourke) wanders and finds -- what else? -- a desert freak show. Though she is too heavy to support herself in full flight, Lily (Megan Fox) can still get a little bit of air with help from the wind.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Passion Play is a weird movie, but not a bad one. Certainly, Mitch Glazer's directorial debut has more going for it than the "Megan Fox is an angel" synopsis that will be used to describe it for as long as people know who Megan Fox is.

Image Entertainment's Blu-ray delivers a suitable feature presentation, but its lack of any making-of material is a tad unfortunate. While I don't see this movie having wide appeal, especially for Fox's young fans, it's not unwise for her to keep options open given the precarious nature of an acting career for someone singled out more for her looks than her talent. You could do worse than renting this.

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Reviewed May 27, 2011.



Text copyright 2011 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2011 Image Entertainment and Rebecca Wang Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.