Fallen wastes viewers’ time

To declare Fallen , the new Warner Brothers film starring Denzel Washington (The Preacher’s Wife), the year’s worst movie would be unfair. After all, the year has just begun. To place this film among the decade’s worst might be more appropriate.

Fallen , surprisingly, is written by the talented Nicholas Kazen, who also wrote the screenplay for Reversal of Fortune. Here, he has thrown together a mess of a story, supported by stale characters, an absurd premise and an equally laughable climax. The film might have retained some value if the acting and direction had not aspired to take the material so seriously. In retrospect, Fallen could have come off as a great seasonal comedy.

The story begins as homicide detective John Hobbes (Washington) awaits the execution of serial killer Edgar Reese (Elias Koteas, Gattaca).

Hobbes visits Reese’s cell – and the condemned killer grabs his hand, reciting devil’s language and singing the Rolling Stones’ “Time Is on My Side.” As it happens, Reese has been taken over by a “fallen” angel named Azazel who lives in human bodies and kills people.

Azazel can change bodies by either having his host body die and flying around until he finds another subject, or by touching the body of another and becoming him.

As the story moves into its Seven rip-off sequence, killings begin in the same style of that old serial killer whose execution detective Hobbes just witnessed. So who is this killer? An accomplice? A copycat? A fallen angel mad at the world who likes to enter human bodies?

Armed with his boyish good lucks and witty charm, Hobbes, with some help from his slapstick partner Jonesy (John Goodman, “Roseanne”), sets out to save the world.

Along the way, Hobbes encounters a young, attractive theology professor (Embeth Davidtz, Schindler’s List) who may lend some clues to tracking the killer. He also must deal with his tough, politically correct lieutenant (Donald Sutherland, A Time to Kill), who believes these killings might be an inside job. What is one man to do in the ultimate battle of good against evil?

One has to wonder how films like this ever get made. Washington is much too strong an actor to waste his time with such a shallow and lackluster story. Goodman offers some comic relief, but he ends up just another empty character who adds nothing to nothing. Sutherland lends his hand as a dull stereotype to this disaster. And director Gregory Hoblit, who showed promise in his first feature Primal Fear, might have trouble finding work after this embarrassment.

It was a rough year in 1997 for Warner Brothers, with failures like Batman and Robin and Speed 2. If Fallen is any indication for what to expect in 1998, the outlook is just as grim.

Fallen is now playing.

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