If nothing else, Mitch Glazer's "Passion Play" scores points for being different. Part existential drama, part swoony romance, part gangster epic, and part fantasy parable--this offbeat tale actually works better than you might anticipate. Expecting relatively little, I bought into this adult fairytale and its eccentricities. For its first hour, it spins a rather sweet fable with deceptively hard edges. It is in this juxtaposition of moods and themes that the movie really sets itself apart. But after establishing an effective premise and winning me over--the film suddenly loses a bit of momentum, takes a complete tonal shift, and ends on a rather unsubtle note meant to be uplifting and fraught with meaning. It's like there was an intriguing idea for a story, but the movie doesn't know how to get to its end in a dramatically cohesive way. Still, I liked the film--but I definitely felt a division between its parts. The first hour rated about 4 stars, but the final thirty minutes kind of felt hollow for me.
When a hapless jazz musician (Mickey Rourke) raises the ire of a local gangster (Bill Murray), he soon finds himself looking down the barrel of a gun. Narrowing avoiding execution, he stumbles upon a traveling carnival and becomes enchanted with Megan Fox who performs as a sideshow attraction. I'm sure plenty of reviews and descriptions of the movie will give you more information--but I think the film works best if you let a few surprises occur naturally. Soon Fox and Rourke hit the road but their blossoming romance is threatened by Rourke's need to square himself with Murray. Fox's allure may be just the ticket to saving his life. Through no fault of the actors, it is when Fox and Murray meet that the film starts to lose a bit of its life force. Who, if anyone, will end up with whom? Or are there greater powers at work on this trio of damaged souls?
Rourke is an interesting presence here--understated and believable. Fox displays credible vulnerability and acquits herself well. However, the grand success of the movie depends on them having an impassioned bond. And although both are good independently, I never felt the real heat of connection and chemistry. The illusion of their romance is not able to withstand their separation--and the longing looks and teary wistfulness were never entirely convincing for me. Murray, for his part, also restrains himself with a sly menace that serves the piece well. And while I'm sure some will be won over by the ending, it just seemed to be trying a bit too hard--especially lacking a tangible love bond. Still, it's worth a look--especially if you enjoy the actors. About 3 1/2 stars overall--I admired what the film tried to accomplish even if I felt it wasn't wholly successful. KGHarris, 5/11.