Passion (film review) by Frank Ochieng.

The problem with some legendary filmmakers is that when they let their guard down slightly and dip into uncharacteristic mediocrity the red flags start to wave. Could this be the case for an immensely revered movie mastermind such as Brian DePalma whose cinematic touch in the cinema scene from the 70s and 80s were among the most stimulating, intense, off-kilter and wickedly appetizing?

In all fairness, many established moviemakers have their glaring ups and downs in their cinematic careers. The filmmaking highlights for DePalma recall some big screen ditties as memorable as hotshot horror fare ‘The Fury’, ‘Carrie’ and ‘Sisters’ to other varied effective and saucy thrillers as ‘Obsession’, ‘Dressed To Kill’, ‘Blow Out’ and ‘Body Double’. Some would even accuse notable DePalma of selling out and opting to play it safe in well-received, audience-pleasing mainstream fodder such as ‘The Untouchables’, ‘Mission: Impossible’, ‘Scarface and ‘Casualties Of War’. In reasonably uncovering genuine DePalma-sized failures one might even mention the forgettable ‘Snake Eyes’ and ‘The Black Dahlia’ as an afterthought.

Passion the movie.
A little too much Passion can be a bad thing.

In writer-director DePalma’s pat provocative sexual drama ‘Passion’, we are taken down a path where this titillating tease might invite some trivial cheap chuckles at best. The sad fact is that ‘Passion’ resembles a shoddy and shallow blueprint of the skillfully impish Hitchcokian-inspired gems that were DePalma’s reliable staple at large. The haunting themes and kinky-style chaotic vibes were a calling card for this challenging auteur willing to take unconventional risks when delivering his twisted treats. ‘Passion’ utterly feels lifeless as an unintentional knockoff of DePalma’s previous crop of superior psychological showcases.

Hopelessly dull and flat, the film’s title suggests that the tawdry intrigue in the world of cutthroat business practices and bedroom antics might make for a potent combination of two femmes fatales engaged in juicy backstabbing and other assorted betrayals. Sadly, ‘Passion’ is merely reduced to silly-minded sensual cinema as it awkwardly echoes DePalma’s earlier influences with psychological thrillers. ‘Passionnever quite generates a distinctive throbbing pulse beyond the run-of-the-mill atmospheric moodiness.  Convincingly disjointed and stagy whether as pure camp or a carousing drama it appears that DePalma’s exotic thriller has all the heated passion of a sweaty arthritic hand.

‘Passion’ is based upon the late French director Alain Corneau’s ‘Love Crime’. DePalma strains to get his hot-and-heavy thriller percolating soundly with his go-to trademark tricks for wild and wacky notions of girl-on-girl sexuality, erratic camera movement, split screen photography, deceptive twists and turns as featured plot devices and the overall symbolic landscape of vengeance.

Rachel McAdams is actually quite hypnotic in her over-the-top turn as Christine, a highly motivated and opportunistic bisexual top executive at a Berlin-based ad agency. Christine casts an amorous spell over her business protégé Isabelle (Noomi Rapace) whose receptive sexual attention from her boss is met without any hesitation. Soon, mixing competitive business with pleasure will become quite burdensome for the kissy tandem as work-related jealousies and resentment surrounding a smartphone marketing campaign builds to a lethal lather between the desirable curvaceous co-workers.

As one can imagine the critical stakes are high for the promiscuous pair as Christine (who originally started the workplace riff by wrongfully taking credit for underling Isabelle’s strategic ideas) and Isabelle (who finally finds the success and attention from what the devious Christine stolen from her previously) are drawn into the deadly mischievousness steeped in sleaziness and scandal. In short, there is no turning back for these vindictive vixens.

The relentless tug-of-war between who deserves the kudos for the thriving agency’s progressive ad campaign becomes complicated as both Christine’s and Isabelle’s hostile office politics crosses into harsh territory involving other sideline observers. Lesbian office assistant Dani (Karoline Herfurth) urges Isabelle (for whom Dani has a deep attraction without fault) to take the initiative and promote her campaign credentials that eventually hits its mark and at the expense of a dismayed Christine. The agency’s accountant Dirk (Paul Anderson) has the dubious task of bedding down the hot-looking vipers Christine and Isabelle from time to time as their professional stand-off escalates.

Even if DePalma’s ‘Passion’ was meant as a means to mock his forte for steamy thrillers, this sordid effort lacked the cunning capabilities to pull off the magical mayhem that was so instrumental in his arsenal of depraved dramas. Thankfully, McAdams and Rapace rescue some of the movie’s contrivances with devilish performances that make the thinly veiled material somewhat palpable.

From naughty excessive smooching to dirty-minded humiliation the only thing truly Passion-ate about DePalma’s empty-minded frivolous fable is the constant reminder about how consistently crafty he was nostalgically with his flavored naughty cinema soup from yesteryear.

Passion (2013)

Entertainment One

1 hr. 38 mins.

Starring: Rachel McAdams, Noomi Rapace, Paul Anderson and Karoline Herfurth

Directed by: Brian DePalma

MPAA Rating: R

Genre: Mystery & Suspense/Erotic Thriller

Critic’s rating: ** stars (out of 4 stars)

(c) Frank Ochieng 2013


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