Even those with giant soft spots for beautiful catastrophes will be hard-pressed to find anything to like in Passion Play. The directorial debut of Mitch Glazer, who once upon a time co-wrote Scrooged, but aims here for something devotedly humorless, Passion Play doesn't overreach so much as it overindulges in aimless pacing, inert acting, and a romance maudlin enough to make Twilight look restrained. Mickey Rourke stars as a down-on-his-luck jazz trumpeter who flees into the desert after he sleeps with the wife of local gangster Bill Murray and ends up targeted for death. Rourke stumbles onto the type of atmospherically run-down carnival endemic to horror flicks and canceled HBO series, and in the freak show, he discovers Megan Fox, a bird-woman whose wings turn out to be real.
Other than Rourke's inherent ragged charm, the foremost demonstration of his character's heart of gold is his appreciation of Fox just the way she is. But all fable aspects of this tale aside, she's Megan Fox, whose success most would not attribute to her subtle command of Stanislavskian Method, and whose nightie-clad angel look here has previously been embraced with considerable success by various Victoria's Secret runway models. If she had a parasitic twin growing out of her chest, or a few extra eyes, Rourke's instant taking to her might require at least a little effort. As such, their “pair of outcasts” connection is eye-roll-worthy.
In Passion Play, Fox is literally a display object. After she and Rourke go on the lam, Murray and carnival head Rhys Ifans follow, violently vying for the right to put her back in a lighted box onstage somewhere. If she's meant to serve as a metaphor for the gilded-cage careers of so many starlets, it'd be helpful if she had any qualities beyond vulnerability. But neither she nor the men fighting over her question the idea that she's a trophy to be collected and shown off. Rourke's inevitable redemption, referred to in the title, comes from righting a wrong he's done her. In light of the film's final twist, that seems insultingly unearned.
Though Fox's computer-generated wings don't hold up to the repeated front-and-center positions they're given, Passion Play at least looks lovely, thanks to the amazing work of cinematographer Christopher Doyle. Perhaps someday, stills from this film could be recycled into a compelling, surreal, noir-themed perfume commercial.