What were Antonio Banderas and Angelina Jolie thinking of when they made this picture? There seems to be no other purpose for 2001’s “Original Sin” than to show as much of the two stars’ flesh as possible.
Now, admittedly, Mr. Banderas and Ms. Jolie are beautiful people, but it’s hardly worth one’s time and money to see that they both have attractive buns and she an attractive chest. The pair are seen in various stages of undress and close embrace for what is in actuality only a few short minutes but seems like half the movie, especially in this special MGM “Unrated” Edition. Is the steamy sex enough to sell the film when there are so few sensible characters, themes, plot turns, or conflicts to care about? Depends on how strongly you feel about the bodies in question, I suppose, and I admit they are attractive; but for me the answer was a resounding “no.”
I find it really difficult talking about a film with so little substance; it’s like trying to talk about the contents of a vacuum jar. But I’ll try. The setting is Cuba in the late nineteenth century. The two main characters are Louis Vargas (Banderas), a coffee exporter looking for a wife, and Julia Russell (Jolie), an American looking for a husband. She has put an ad in a newspaper offering herself in marriage, and he has answered the call. Now, stretch number one is believing that anyone as rich and handsome as Louis or as beautiful and sweet as Julia would need to mail-order their spouses. But they do. When Julia shows up in Cuba, she’s more gorgeous than he pictured her, and he’s wealthier than she says she imagined. Stretch number two: They decide to marry, anyway, as if they would have given it any second thought.
Now, either Louis is the most naive person on the face of the planet or he’s the dumbest guy since Inspector Clouseau. They marry, and after a few days of Julia’s coyly remaining aloof from his amorous charms and his staying gallantly in a separate bedroom, they finally make love. This is the big scene that was expanded the most for MGM’s Unrated Edition. Anyhow, for a presumably innocent flower, Julia knows more sexual positions than the “Kama Sutra,” and their bodies intertwine in more combinations than a Rubik’s Cube. However, stretch number three, Louis isn’t at all surprised by her lovemaking skills, just pleased. He only begins to get worried about her when at a theater one night she takes off backstage and he finds her talking to the Devil! She was merely lost, she tells Louis, and asking for directions; the actor was kind enough to direct her back to the auditorium. Stretch number four: He believes her.
Well, you can see where this is going. We aren’t a third of the way through the movie when she takes off and disappears with all of his money. The rest of the film deals with him chasing her high and low because, as he says, he loves her and wants to kill her. A detective, Walter Downs (Thomas Jane), shows up looking for her on behalf of her sister back in the States, and he, too, becomes entangled in the scheme of things. Supposedly, there’s a theme in here somewhere about love conquering all or sex conquering love or something, I’m not sure.
The plot twists become more nonsensical as they unfold, and before long the whole business becomes mightily trying and deadly dull. There is little or no chemistry between Banderas and Jolie, despite their several intended “sizzling” sex scenes. The explicit scenes themselves are revealing but in no way sexy. The music, although lush, is overblown and over dramatic. Any surprises the story attempts to deliver are easily anticipated. Even the ending is a corny, sentimental cop-out.
Nevertheless, there are a lot of people who will undoubtedly like this film for its “look”–its gorgeous locales, its opulent scenery, its lush photography, its plush, period costumes, its luxuriant (though overwrought and histrionic) musical score. These qualities are good for about ten minutes. Other folks may enjoy the film simply because it’s an all-out, old-fashioned, over-the-top, melodramatic potboiler. Indeed, the movie so superficial, it may be one of those “so-bad-it’s-good” affairs in a few viewers’ eyes. There’s a little bit of something in “Original Sin” for everyone and no one at the same time.
MGM’s 2.09:1 anamorphic widescreen picture is surely one of the film’s strongest assets. The image is extremely clean, digital artifacts like moiré effects and transfer grain are almost entirely absent, and colors are largely rich and luxuriant. The picture’s overall definition is slightly soft, perhaps intentionally to romanticize the mood, perhaps not.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is also good, very clear and dynamic, and the rear channels are used moderately, mainly to reinforce musical ambiance. A sequence in downtown Havana is about the only instance where all five channels open up and come alive, but it’s done effectively.
For special features, MGM brass seem content to offer mainly the extended sex scenes. Regardless, there is an audio commentary with director Michael Cristofer and a music video, “You Can’t Walk Away from Love” by Gloria Estefan, that may be of interest to someone. There is also an animated photo gallery, one that moves along on its own, that includes more risqué photos of Jolie and Banderas. Finally, there are a meager sixteen scene selections, a theatrical trailer, and spoken languages and subtitles in English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.
As I’ve said, for me “Original Sin” has little in it beyond the beauty of its two leads and the excellence of its cinematography. I’m not even sure why the movie was titled “Original Sin.” In the everyday sense, the term applies to the generally depraved nature of all Mankind since the time of the Fall of Adam. Maybe that’s what the filmmakers had in mind–that everybody is inherently evil. Hardly an earthshaking pronouncement. Certainly, nothing the characters do in the film is even remotely “original.” In fact, most of the iniquity in the film is old hat. In the final analysis, I’d say the only “sin” committed was by the filmmakers producing the movie in the first place.