MEET JOE BLACK
Martin Brest, who has directed several excellent films in the past [Beverly
Hills Cop (1984), Scent of a Woman (1992)], must have misplaced
his scissors, but the length of his film is not its only fault. Excellent
performances by Anthony Hopkins and Clair Forlani are foiled by a rather
style-less job by Brad Pitt, and Jake Weber's stereotyped villain is not
human enough to believe.
When Death (Pitt) comes to collect his latest package, newspaper CEO
Bill Parrish (Hopkins), he decides to hang around awhile and sample some
of the earthly pleasures he's heard so much about. Choosing a plain tan
suit over the usual scythe and black cloak, he steals some guy's body and
adopts the moniker "Joe Black." He chose Parrish as his guide
because of his leadership qualities, but he didn't realize he also had a
daughter who is both beautiful (in a big-nosed, Barbra Streisand sort of
way) and intelligent. Susan (Forlani) is a doctor-in-residence at the local
hospital. Bill also has another daughter, Allison (Marcia Gay Harden), who
is busy planning a spectacular party for her dad's 65th birthday. Allison's
affable husband Quince (Jeffrey Tambor) and Susan's fiancé Drew (Weber)
are both on the board of directors for Bill's multimillion-dollar company,
and Drew, a cutthroat businessman, is Bill's closest aide.
But the sudden appearance of Joe Black takes everyone by surprise, especially
Susan, who had just met the body's former owner that morning at a coffee
shop. She had been charmed by the mystery man's polite candor about love
and commitment, and felt romantic pangs that emphasized her dissatisfaction
with Drew. Joe has no recollection of the coffee shop meeting, of course,
but is intrigued nonetheless. Drew first welcomes Joe as a friend of Bill's,
but soon grows irritated by Joe's apparent influence on his boss and girlfriend.
But what really ticks him off is when Bill suddenly cancels Drew's plans
to merge the company with another, larger corporation. Thinking Bill has
surrendered control of the business to this mysterious visitor, he engineers
a hostile takeover, using the unwitting Quince as a tool.
Meanwhile, Joe is basically just enjoying all the enjoyable aspects of
being human, from eating peanut butter to making love. The one he's making
love to is, of course, Susan, who has fallen completely head over heels
for a man who must leave Earth in just a few days.
It is unfortunate that such an enigmatic role was given to Pitt, who
is clearly not up to the task. His interpretation is more robotic than wondrous;
he doesn't seem to really feel the things he's supposed to be so thrilled
by. And up against Hopkins and Forlani he looks especially wooden. The film's
ending is a terrible cop-out on the part of the writers. Apart from the
obvious breaking of natural law, it emphasizes that Susan's love for this
man is based primarily on his looks.
Meet Joe Black is a film with potential that could have been helped immeasurably by being cut to 2 hours. ****
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