Detective John Hobbes (Denzel Washington) has finally reached closure with one of his toughest cases. Killer Edgar Reese (Elias Koteas) is finally being executed. However, Reese doesn't seem too distraught at the occurence, singing The Rolling Stones' Time is On My Side as he is gassed.
Soon more killings occur throughout the city, each with the same set of circumstances used by Reese. More disturbingly, each victim seems to be killed by a different murderer. It's up to Detective Hobbes to stop the slayings, but he doesn't suspect what has been unleashed.
A theology professor, Greta Milano (Embeth Davitz), is the first to reveal to Hobbes that his foe is of supernatural origin. The fallen angel Azazel, who can possess bodies with a simple touch, is to blame. For some (never explained) reason, Hobbes is unpossessable, and so Azazel has selected him as a target. But how can one stop a supernatural being?
Washington is as good as always in the role of the tormented cop, but there are too many scenes of him simply doing something, with the narration taking over, explaining what he's doing. A more confident filmmaker would have shot the film without the narration (although it does provide a non-crucial twist), relying on the talents of Washington (or a better script) to convey the meaning of his actions.
Washington is surrounded by a good supporting cast, including his trusty partner, Jonesy (John Goodman), his secretive Lieutenant, Stanton (Donald Sutherland), the weaselly Lou (James Gandolfini), and the aforementioned Gretta (Embeth Davitz). You know as the film goes on that one (or more) of them will become hosts for Azazel. However, they seem to spend most of the film waiting for that moment to arrive, rather than doing any particularly interesting things.
There are a few interesting concepts, and a couple of thrilling scenes wherein the killer's rapid body switching creates some true paranoia. However, one of the problems with creating a nearly all-powerful supernatural foe is defining its limits, something that Fallen fails to properly do. When we finally learn of Azazel's true plans for revenge, we wonder why it didn't just do that before. The only thing which would have stopped it was the script.
Fallen's quasi-religious themes don't ever quite play out. There are too many questions that go unanswered. (Such as why Denzel can't be possessed? Or why this fallen angel acts more like a serial killer than a supernatural force?) When the screenplay gets stuck, it smugly hides behind a "there are some things we aren't meant to know". One or two of those might have been acceptable...but when the film is filled with them, you're left to wonder, what's the point?
[R - violence and language] (WB)