out of 4
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Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
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Anyone up for a nice game of demonic tag? In the supernatural thriller
"Fallen," the demon Azazel can transfer from body to body by mere touch.
It happens instantaneously, so quickly that the next party doesn't even
have time to react. There's a great scene in the film where Detective
John Hobbes (Denzel Washington) finally realizes the truth about the
creature when it follows him down a crowded street, transferring from
body to body with remarkable ease while taunting the terrified officer.
Director Gregory Hoblit exhibits perfect timing in this nifty scene, his
camera flowing smoothly from actor to actor as Azazel body-hops. It's
words and expressions seamlessly transfer from one person to the next,
and the effect is dazzling and truly creepy. Ah, if only Hoblit could
have maintained this level of tension for the whole film.
He didn't, of course, which is why "Fallen" has been released in January,
a month designated by the studios for dumping those films that couldn't
cut it during the highly competitive holiday season. It's a shame,
because "Fallen" had real potential.
The idea is nothing new. The stylish sci-fi thriller "The Hidden" focused
on a hedonistic alien murderer that moved from one human host to another
and the central storyline of David Lynch's "Twin Peaks" involved the
demon BoB, who killed Laura Palmer while inhabiting her father's body. In
those stories though, the transfer was traumatic, to say the least. The
ingenious twist of "Fallen" was in making the transfer instantaneous and
painless. When the demon moves on, the previous host has no memory of
what just happened, making the procedure all the more insidious. How does
a detective follow an investigation when the body that did the killing
may actually be innocent? Unfortunately, "Fallen" only toys with the
notion, rather than diving in completely.
The story begins as Hobbes attends the execution of his nemesis, serial
killer Edgar Reese (Elias Koteas, in a brief, but electric performance.)
Hours before his death, Reese requests, and receives a visit from Hobbes.
In one of the film's best scenes, Reese moves about his cell like an
animal, grinning maniacally at Hobbes while tossing off lines like "What
goes around really goes around" between explosive bursts of a language
not used since Biblical times. In the gas chamber, Reese continues
grinning, singing "Time Is On My Side" right up until the end.
Immediately following his demise, the camera moves to a point of view
shot above the body, providing a hint of things to come.
In short order, Hobbes learns that something very weird is up, as the
streak of murders begins again. His investigation leads him to
supernatural notions he cannot begin to accept and to theology student
Gretta Limano (Embeth Davidtz,) the daughter of an officer who was killed
All the elements for a successful thriller are present in "Fallen," yet
the film never quite catches fire. A large part of the problem lies in
Denzel Washington's performance. Washington is a charismatic actor, but
generally behaves like a Scoutmaster with a broomstick jammed up his ass.
He is at his best in films such as the charming "The Mighty Quinn," where
his stiffness was incorporated into the story. Here, his behavior simply
appears too proper and subdued for the situation. His muted reactions to
the incredible circumstances around him puts a damper on audience
reaction as well.
There's also the matter of Reese. When Hobbes learns the truth about
Azazel, he surely would realize that, as one of Azazel's host bodies,
Reese may have actually been just another victim of the demon. It would
have been nice to see Hobbes give at least a moments thought to the
notion that he might have sent an innocent man to his death, but it never
Instead, the sole focus of the film is the cat and mouse game between the
demon and the cop, while the supporting cast twiddle their thumbs. John
Goodman is wasted as Hobbes partner, Donald Sutherland does his usual
sinister shtick as the commanding officer, and Embeth Davidtz just rushes
about looking grim. A promising subplot involving Hobbes live-in brother
and nephew is never explored.
We do, however, get lots of footage of a dreary Philadelphia and an
annoying voice-over from Denzel Washington that drips with clichés. Now
don't get me wrong, "Fallen" isn't a terrible film. There's a genuinely
intriguing idea at play here, and in a few scenes, the premise comes
alive, showing just how juicy the film might have been. Had the
filmmakers taken a little more time to think the story through and flesh
out the supporting cast, "Fallen" could have been a real corker instead
of just another January throw-away.
Copyright © 1998 Edward Johnson-Ott
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