Rated R - Running Time: 1:56 - Released 8/3/01

Antonio Banderas and Angelina Jolie would seem a perfect combination when it comes to sheer drawing power, since both are currently hot Hollywood commodities. Jolie's recent turn as superheroine Lara Croft in Tomb Raider is still unspooling in theaters as we speak, and both are well-known for being easy on the eyes, but their pairing in Michael Cristofer's period crime thriller Original Sin leaves something to be desired. While the couple look terrific in 19th-century costumes and share a sizzling sex scene (they are out of costume for that one), they lack the romantic spark to make the story believable and their characters are not likeable enough for us to make the necessary emotional investment.

Banderas plays Luis Vargas, a wealthy Cuban coffee baron whose thriving Santiago plantation has brought him everything except that which he desires most: a wife. (Apparently he couldn't find any local girls willing to marry a rich, love-starved plantation owner who looks like Antonio Banderas.) Placing an ad in U.S. newspapers, he finally succeeds in attracting a mate, but the frumpy spinster from Delaware he expects (after exchanging letters and pictures) turns out to be Angelina Jolie, who presumably couldn't find any men willing to marry a beautiful, long-haired knockout with full, luxurious lips and fabulous hooters. The couple are instantly married and begin an idyllic lifestyle together at his Havana estate, but a slight fissure in their wedded bliss occurs when she empties his bank account and disappears. Not only that, she may have killed his canary.

You see, as it turns out, she is really actress and con woman Bonnie Castle, whose lover and lifelong actor friend Billy (Thomas Jane) not only has complete emotional and psychological control over her but is getting great notices as Satan in the local theatre production. Together, the two enact a plan to take Luis for all he's worth, but Bonnie's growing affection for the lovable lug and his immense gullibility begins to get in the way.

The film is based on the novel Waltz Into Darkness by the famous late thriller-meister Cornell Woolrich (a.k.a. William Irish); it is adapted for the screen by director Cristofer. While the story itself could be quite intriguing, Cristofer has great difficulty translating it into believable dialogue and in generating any real tension among his good-looking but emotionally stunted cast. Jolie and Banderas never seem to really like each other, or in fact even look at each other, although she is supposed to be steadily falling for him as the action progresses. There is enough technique between them to render some adequate exchanges, but too much has been left to rest on their shoulders. Meanwhile, alongside them, Jane just looks like a hack with a fake moustache. On the technical side, the film is visually pretty, with rich period accoutrements and Hispanic atmosphere. But if you're looking for an intelligent thriller, you may be disappointed. ***½

Copyright 2001 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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