Playing God

on October 17, 1997 by Christine James
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   David Duchovny ("Kalifornia," but better known from TV's "The X-Files") plays Eugene, a former surgeon who is very depressed over having lost his doctor's license for operating under the influence of drugs. While on a hallucinogen run in a seedy bar, his heroics in rescuing a fellow club patron who's suddenly gunned down brings him to the attention of a crime boss, the maniacal Raymond ("French Kiss'" Timothy Hutton). Raymond offers Eugene exorbitant sums to fix up his colleagues who can't go to the hospital, where they would be arrested for various and sundry offenses. The directionless, morally ambivalent Eugene accepts, in part for the money and in part for the proximity this allows to Raymond's beautiful girlfriend Claire ("Foxfire's" Angelina Jolie).
   From the onset, this action/thriller is as lackadaisical as its star's notoriously mellow delivery. The protagonists are not particularly sympathetic, and the villain is not very convincingly intimidating. An almost comical standoff with some Russian smugglers in the film's first third severely undercuts any tension and suspension of disbelief by being insultingly cartoonish. A lack of a clearly articulated danger to the anti-heroes also hinders involvement in the story.
   Duchovny's sedate persona occasionally provides humor with his deadpan reactions to severe situations, but this effective device is not utilized nearly enough to keep the energy up. Jolie is interesting and subtle as the cool cucumber Claire, but her underwritten character is a disappointment. And, although it's an admirable attempt, Hutton just doesn't fly as a bleached-blond, hiply garbed, devil-may-care kingpin, whose self-delight and crazed intensity feels very forced. "Playing God" is a film that, amid wanton bloodletting, tries to be introspective and philosophical, but it's about as engaging in that respect as its denouement involving car chases and bumbling cops.    Starring David Duchovny, Timothy Hutton and Angelina Jolie. Directed by Andy Wilson. Written by Mark Haskell Smith. Produced by Marc Abraham and Laura Bickford. A Buena Vista release. Rated R for strong graphic violence, gore, pervasive language and some drug use. Running time: 94 min.
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