Original Sin Movie Review

Take one of those soft-focused Zalman King erotica flicks from the 1990s -- "Wild Orchid," for example, or his late-night Showtime series "The Red Shoe Diaries" -- water down the sex a little and subtract 100 years, and you've got the bulk of the formula for "Original Sin."

A by-the-book bodice-ripper set in 1890s Cuba, it's the steamy, sweaty story of a good man (Antonio Banderas) ruined by his love for a bad woman (Angelina Jolie), who takes him for everything he's worth and he still comes crawling back for more.

Jolie plays a Machiavellian seductress who passes herself off as the mail order bride for wealthy coffee baron Banderas, a man who apparently has trouble getting chicks in spite of being loaded, absurdly chivalrous and, well, Antonio Banderas. They marry only hours after she disembarks from the steam liner that brought her to Havana, and Banderas is soon surprised to find himself passionately in love with this sultry, ambrosial woman -- who subsequently absconds with the contents of his bank account after a few seemingly blissful weeks.

The same day a vaguely sleazy gentleman dandy of a private eye (Thomas Jane, "Deep Blue Sea") shows up investigating the disappearance of the real mail order bride. Incensed, Banderas begins a hunt for his wayward wife that has an unexpected result: When he finds her -- seducing another rich man in another Cuban city -- he's once again overwhelmed by desire. She breaks down, spinning a sob story about being forced into a partnership with a crooked man from her past -- hmmm, who could that be? -- and soon they're on the run together from the detective. Or so Banderas thinks. The truth is a fluid thing in "Original Sin."

You know what you get going into a movie like this, so there's not much point to disparaging the genre hallmarks like boudoir fantasy voice-overs ("And there in his arms she became someone else..."), overly stylized lovemaking scenes (super-imposed slow-motion montages of intertwined body part close-ups) or melodramatic acting. Will he kill for her? Zoom in on Antonio's smoldering eyes and -- da-da-duuummmmm! (Zoom in on my rolling eyes is more like it.)

But director Michael Christofer (who helmed Jolie's breakout HBO film "Gia" and loosely adapted this picture from Cornell Woolrich's "Waltz Into Darkness") falls victim to the frivolous trappings of this pulp carnality, letting the tawdry get the better of him and falling back on the most transparent of narrative techniques.

As if the story arch isn't predictable enough, he interrupts the action with frequent flashes forward that feature Jolie behind bars, relating this story to a ridiculously naive priest as she awaits execution. By the second time you see her manipulating this malleable man of the cloth, you know exactly where that subplot is headed.

Taken for what it is -- a trashy erotic thriller with a romanticized period setting -- "Original Sin" may have a certain entertainment value for, say, someone who would like to fantasize about a stud like Antonio Banderas sacrificing his life and livelihood to be with that someone at all costs. But whether or not such a sordid soap opera is worth your $9 is a decision you'll have to make for yourself.


Original Sin Rating

" Grim "

Rating: R, Opened: Friday, August 3, 2001


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