Playing God - * 1/2*

The laconic David Duchovny returns to feature films for the first time after starring in the hit TV show, The X-Files. However, he should have been a bit pickier in his choice of projects. Playing God is a standard crime thriller that goes nowhere and gives Duchovny nothing to do.

Duchovny plays Eugene Sands, a doctor who had his license revoked after losing a patient during surgery. His life has slowly devolved to that of a synthetic heroin addict, but that is about to change. One night, a man is shot next to him in a nightclub. When it becomes obvious that no paramedics will be called, Eugene goes to work, and a little makeshift surgery later, he saves a life.

This attracts the interests of small time crimelord Raymond Blossom (Timothy Hutton). Blossom leads a counterfeiting ring, but desires to expand, at any cost. Often, the price for such expansion can be painful, and he sees Eugene as a way to ease that pain. He gives Eugene a chance to be a doctor again, and Eugene reluctantly agrees.

However, to throw a wrench into the situation, there’s Claire (Angelina Jolie), Raymond’s enigmatic girlfriend. She’s disdainful of Eugene at first, but soon her contempt is tranformed into passion, and their affair brings a new level of danger to the situation.

There are moments in Playing God that could have been the basis of a good film. However, Playing God refuses to follow up on them, instead it metamorphoses into an all too obvious criminal chase picture. It tries to salvage itself with a heavy dose of wit, but it is layered so thickly that it smothers itself. The intended comic relief scenes (the psychopath who doesn’t understand the meaning of “dead”, or the country bumpkin bar inhabitants/medical assistants) are way too overdirected to be as humorous as intended.

The scenes where Eugene has to practice makeshift surgery using whatever is at hand are interesting, and a welcome change from the standard surgical procedure. (Though I’m not sure if I’d like to be on the receiving end). However, Playing God doesn’t keep up with the originality. Instead, as the movie progresses, everything gets more and more routine.

David Duchovny walks through his first post-X-Files movie role. It doesn’t give him much to do, and he doesn’t try to do anything outside the role’s requirements. As a result, he give a very flat performance with less range of emotion than even the flattest Fox Mulder episodes.

Timothy Hutton seems to enjoy his change-of-pace bad guy role, and is perhaps the most dynamic thing in this rigid film. Unfortunately, the role is sewn together, a bit like Frankenstein’s monster, out of old villain cliches. At least it looks like he’s expending some energy here (unlike the rest of the cast).

Playing God tries too hard, and at the wrong things. It concentrates too much on comic releif, while ignoring its true weaknesses: poorly defined characters and a stiff, uninteresting plot. File this one under malpractice.

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