Devil’s Advocate Lacks a Certain Hoo-Ha … Ethan Hawke Wages Gene Wars in Gattaca …

Devil Lacks A Certain Hoo-Ha

After the millennium, we’ll be living in Hell, and the Antichrist will be a lawyer. That’s the shaky premise of The Devil’s Advocate , a silly, overwrought, overproduced and dreadfully written bit of hoo-ha that can’t decide whether it wants to be a comedy, a horror flick, an occult barbecue of John Grisham, or a Halloween show routine for David Letterman. It settles for a cross between The Firm and Rosemary’s Baby II . It is awful.

In this Faust update, Keanu Reeves plays Kevin Lomax, a gravy-fed Florida hotshot who is more Fudd than Faust, but he has a distinct talent for getting guilty clients off free. Naturally he comes to the fast attention of a talent scout for a high-tech New York law firm run by head honcho John Milton (Al Pacino, who not only looks like he’s on familiar terms with Paradise Lost but seems to be a regular at Dante’s Inferno , and I don’t mean the disco). Kevin and his foxy wife Mary Ann (Charlize Theron) are easy recruits for the Big Apple’s lures-vast apartments, big money, endless perks. They are also dumbfoundingly stupid. If Kevin’s first meeting with John Milton doesn’t tell him he’s in Purgatory, he hasn’t seen many B-movies, even though he’s acting in the middle of one. His Bible-toting, gospel-quoting mother (Judith Ivey) warned him he was heading for a “dwelling place for demons,” and in one of the film’s endlessly contrived plot twists, she later proves her point, having dwelled there herself.

But Kevin is fascinated by his boss-a Mephistopheles who dresses only in black, sucks lozenges, talks in a Bronx accent and only takes the subway. His office has sepulcher doors that clang shut behind you, and the fires of Hell roar eternally on his hearth, attended by sexy witches named Caprice and Christabella. While Mary Ann is dragged by the Daughters of Satan to haunt their favorite boutiques on Madison Avenue, Kevin tackles his new cases. When the first client, accused of sacrificing living animals in his ghetto cellar, retrieves an enormous tongue from a freezer dripping with blood and drives a nail through it, the assistant D.A. prosecuting the case almost chokes to death in court. Kevin just reacts with one of Keanu Reeves’ duh, gee-whiz looks. As the clients get weirder, the Devil gets bolder, giving Al Pacino a chance to roll his eyes, hobnob with Don King and Alfonse D’Amato, speak Chinese, dance the flamenco and say mind-boggling lines like “A woman’s neck, if she’s alive, has all the mystique of a border town.”

But while everyone works like chipmunks trying to make a coherent movie out of this mess, things start falling apart at home when Mary Ann sees a baby playing with a toy that turns out to be a bloody, newborn fetus. Naturally, she ends up in a padded cell, but this two-and-a-half-hour epic is far from over. It’s almost two hours before the really creepy stuff starts, with an overload of Rick Baker monster makeup and the usual computer imagery and digital gimmickry that accompany most empty Hollywood movies. Maybe director Taylor Hackford is trying to say something about the blurred lines between yuppie ambition and selling souls to Satan, but there’s nothing new or fresh enough about anything in The Devil’s Advocate to keep a sophisticated audience from laughing out loud.

There is, however, a belching volcano of dialogue (by Jonathan Lemkin and Tony Gilroy) that wins new laurels in the pantheon of pretentiousness. Mr. Pacino mumbles his way through most of it, banging his eyes around like eight balls (“God is an absentee landlord!” and “Guilt is like a bag of fucking bricks-all you have to do is set it down!”), but it’s not long before Mr. Reeves joins in, hamstrung by a Southern drawl as phony as what New Yorkers call coleslaw (“You mean it’s better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven?”). Keanu Reeves still can’t act, but why bother? Al Pacino is so busy hamming it up all over the place, nobody else gets a chance. This movie ends so many times, it gets dizzy and stabs itself with its own knife before the audience does, but the final murder-suicide-orgy-and-salvation dream sequence ends with the impression that when we finally cast out Satan, like the Good Book says, he’ll be lip-synching a Frank Sinatra record. No wonder in Hollywood even the shrinks have shrinks.

Thurman Sizes Up Hawke’s Hero

Gattaca , a loopy first film by New Zealand writer-director Andrew Niccol, visualizes a futuristic technological ozone layer in which superior beings are conceived genetically as a super-race with all the best jobs and privileges. Poor Ethan Hawke plays Jerome, a navigator pilot set to leave on a one-year mission to Titan, the 14th moon of Saturn. But Jerome is a fake. He’s one of those old-fashioned love children, conceived the old-fashioned way, in the defunct 1990’s, in the back of an automobile! The real Jerome (Jude Law) is a cripple who illegally changes identities to stay home and watch TV and drink vodka martinis, so the bogus Jerome does everything to excel in the Gattaca program, run by Gore Vidal. Stay with me on this, no matter how preposterous it gets (and believe me, it gets worse). Anyway, the dashing Mr. Hawke, who looks even more human with short hair and a bar of soap, has everything planned to invade the biomolecular gene computer and to eliminate the addictions, diseases and mental inferiority of real humans, down to reconstructing even the blood type and height of his more fortunate and privileged, genetically conceived fellow astronauts. Everything, that is, except penis size. It’s up to Uma Thurman to check out the secret facts. It’s the first time she’s ever been to bed with a guy with only 10 fingers and 10 toes. Will she tell? Or will she go through the rest of the movie smiling like the Mona Lisa on Quaaludes?

Occasionally, this pointless exercise in comic-book Scientology threatens to make cautionary warnings an issue. Will test tube babies inherit the earth? In the future, will passion and humanity and vulnerability be outmoded and déclassé primitive emotions outlawed by society? Will what we now call virtues be re-evaluated as 21st-century character flaws? These are questions Gattaca is too weak to ask us directly, and you go away teased but tricked while the movie veers off course and turns into an ordinary murder mystery with intergalactic cops and a killer loose in the space lab. Nothing to challenge the planets, but a pleasant enough time-waster with vast, cold, scenic designs in cervical shapes that may or may not be reproductive metaphors.

Com’on’a, Quietly, It’s Clooney’s Mike

Peace, joy and jampacked tranquility have returned to Rainbow & Stars, where Rosemary Clooney is doing a brief two weeks instead of her usual four, selling nothing but easy, relaxed musical perfection. This time she’s celebrating not only her November wedding to her friend for 40 years, Dante DiPaolo, but her new CD, Mothers and Daughters , and her 52nd anniversary in show business. Small wonder, then, that she opens with a bouncy, urgent “Get Me to the Church on Time.”

After a gently swinging “Funny Face,” a rarely heard verse to “Pennies From Heaven” and a lush medley of Johnny Burke-Jimmy Van Heusen songs in a tribute to her late pal Bing Crosby (who died 20 years ago this month), she told warm, witty stories about Bing, Billie Holiday and other departed legends, then essayed an exquisite “God Bless the Child,” accompanied only by the heavenly clusters of Bucky Pizzarelli’s guitar. Her unrehearsed patter is always great. This time, an elderly lady who insisted on singing along from her table on “Always” was handed the mike for an impromptu assist that brought the house down. But on the next song, when the old lady started in again, those Irish eyebrows rose into potential storm clouds on that rosy face. “No, dear, I do this one alone,” warned the diva, then added, “but you can have my dress.” Add a rousing new Dave Frishberg composition, “I Want to Be a Sideman,” which echoed memories of the Clooney years as a big-band vocalist, and a rare Johnny Mercer lyric he left behind after his death and set to music by Barry Manilow called “When October Goes,” and you get the picture of how much quality awaits you.

She told a story of how, while preparing for her November nuptials in Maysville, Ky. (pop. 7,000), she was dumbstruck when the Catholic priest performing the ceremony asked for proof of her ex-husband Jose Ferrer’s death. The mother of five Ferrer kids and God knows how many grandchildren replied: “Is it all right if I just bring an obit from The New York Times ?” Don’t miss this. There isn’t a dull moment in the whole show.

Devil’s Advocate Lacks a Certain Hoo-Ha … Ethan Hawke Wages Gene Wars in Gattaca  …