Original Sin

As a playwright, Michael Cristofer won both a Tony and a Pulitzer Prize for The Shadow Box. As a screenwriter and director, his films (Body Shots, Gia) have been marked by overacting, shrill histrionics, and a lack of substance. Cristofer's cinematic losing streak continues with Original Sin, a characteristically overheated romantic thriller that would undoubtedly, and deservedly, have received a direct-to-video burial if not for the ubiquity of star Angelina Jolie. Adapted from the same Cornell Woolrich novel as François Truffaut's Mississippi Mermaid, Original Sin casts Jolie as the world's most attractive turn-of-the-century mail-order bride, and Antonio Banderas as her similarly improbable businessman husband. Both enter into the union under false pretenses, but they soon find themselves engaged in comically banal sex scenes, complete with easy-jazz accompaniment, soft-focus lighting, and body parts contorting in slow-motion ecstasy. But Banderas' happiness is short-lived, as Jolie predictably flees town with all of his money. As Banderas' obsession grows more overwrought, Cristofer ratchets up the melodrama accordingly, combining ham-fisted symbolism (Jolie at one point kills a songbird in a cage) with some of the ripest dialogue this side of a Fabio-penned romance novel. In more gifted hands, Original Sin might have been a dark, haunting look at the self-delusional nature of obsession and the complicated intersection of love and lust. In Cristofer's hands, it feels like a Zalman King schlockfest decked out in period drag.

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