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Playing God

movie review by
Gary Johnson

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Official Web site for PLAYING GOD

Playing God is a disappointment. It contains several intriguing ingredients--such as a slightly skewed, pop-art look, the somnambulant charm of David Duchovny, and the whacked-out intensity of Timothy Hutton as the lead villain (yes, Timothy Hutton!)--but none of these ingredients can overcome the general level of stupidity that overwhelms this movie.

Playing God gives us David Duchovny as Dr. Eugene Sands, whose medical license was suspended after he operated on a patient while under the influence of narcotics and amphetamines. Now, a ruthless black market business man, Raymond Blossom (played by Timothy Hutton), recruits Sands to help patch up his frequently bleeding business customers and henchmen. Blossom doesn't really give Sands much choice in the matter. Thus, Sands ends up in a situation that quickly threatens to destroy him.

But nothing much makes sense in this movie. For starters, we're supposed to believe that Sands saves a gunshot victim in a bar by using some tubing and a plastic bottle. . . . Yeah, right. Due to this miracle cure, however, Blossom finds out about Sands and hunts him down. We soon get dozens of Russians named Dimitri firing Uzis, while other thugs yell, "Fuck you!" "No, fuck you!" "NO, fuck YOU!" "NO! Fuck YOU!" Meanwhile, director Andy Wilson's idea of style is to film a conversation by photographing it through a hazy wall of mirrors. This ridiculously self-conscious approach isn't audacious; it's simply annoying. Wilson tries to take this movie in the direction of Pulp Fiction (even giving us hired killers who prattle on about ridiculous topics as they drive their car--just like Vincent and Jules), but Wilson has no sense of compassion for the characters. His only concern is with the mayhem, which he bothers to film in slow motion even when nothing particularly striking is happening.

Playing God contains at least two good scenes. In the first scene, Sands makes a house call and finds the gunshot victim is already dead. The victim's friend insists--at gunpoint--that Sands fix him. "I'll see what I can do," says Sands (in Duchovny's finely-honed dead pan style) while looking into the barrel of a gun. In another scene, Sands stumbles into a biker bar for help when his friend is wounded, and he ends up operating on top of a pool table while the bikers eagerly help out. One biker even taps out the patient's heart beat with his boot! Occasionally, Timothy Hutton also injects some life into the movie with his over-the-top performance. (Hutton seems to have recently attended the Christopher Walken school of acting.)

However, the direction and screenplay never let us get inside the characters. Playing God is only concerned with the surface gloss. The movie gives us several flashbacks explaining Dr. Eugene Sand's past. But in the present, the filmmakers don't know what to make of Sands. He's simply part of the walking wounded. The camera passively records the events with the same somnambulant gaze as Sands. As a result, the experience of watching Playing God never becomes involving or particularly compelling.

[rating: 1 of 4 stars]

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