Dir: Michael Cristofer. US. 2001. 116 mins.
Angelina Jolie's second big release of the summer is a very different kettle of pescado from Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Written and directed by Michael Cristofer, who previously steered Jolie's breakthrough performance in Gia, Original Sin wraps a plot from the world of film noir in a period Latin love story that's more reminiscent of cheesy romance novels. Jolie's rising star power should help the film to a decent opening in the US, but a quick fall-off seems likely. The exotic elements may help in some territories outside the US, although weak pre-US debuts in Germany and France don't bode well for the rest of the international roll-out.
The story - from a book by 1940's crime novelist Cornell Woolrich - is set in 19th-century Cuba. Jolie's Julia is a beautiful American con artist who surreptitiously takes the place of a mail-order bride being brought to the island by wealthy businessman Luis (Banderas). Having sparked Luis' passion, Julia empties his bank account and flees from his palatial home. But Luis is hooked and follows Julia to Havana, where he discovers her true identity and confronts her partner - and abusive lover - Billy (Jane).
The noir elements - a gullible man, a femme fatale and the old lethal cocktail of love, lust and greed - drive the story, but it's the cheesy romance that sets the tone. The effect is sometimes muy over the top - and sometimes cornily enjoyable as well. Jolie's sultry looks work well for her character and her performance, while at times self-conscious, delivers the kind of pouting mystery that a good noir anti-heroine demands.
Banderas is no less pleasing to the eye, though his part is much more straightforward. The sexual chemistry might have been stronger, but out of bed the stars interact fairly well. Jane (Under Suspicion, The Thin Red Line) makes a suitably villainous third corner of the film's love triangle.
Lush production design, attractive cinematography (by Rodrigo Prieto, making his US debut after shooting Mexican hit Amores Perros) and some nice period Mexican locations provide additional eye candy. The sex scenes and hand-held camera work - lots of jittering and gyrating at crucial moments of emotional tension - lend the film a somewhat contemporary air. But in the end they can't disguise the fact that Original Sin is probably more suited to the middle of the 20th century than the beginning of the 21st.
Prod cos: Hyde Park Entertainment, Via Rosa/Di Novi Pictures, Intermedia/UGC
Int'l dist: MGM (US and, through Fox, selected intl), Epsilon (Europe).
Prods: Denise Di Novi, Kate Guinzburg, Carol Lees.
Exec prods: Sheldon Abend, Ashok Amrtiraj, David Hoberman.
Scr: Cristofer, based on the novel Waltz into Darkness by Cornell Woolrich.
Cinematography: Rodrigo Prieto.
Ed: Eric Sears
Prod des: David J Bomba.
Costume des: Donna Zakowska.
Music: Terence Blanchard.
Main cast: Antonio Banderas, Angelina Jolie, Thomas Jane, Jack Thompson.