Premiere (US), 1998

I Love Lucifer

Keanu and Al have a helluva good time making legal evil in "Devil's Advocate"

by Libby Gelman-Waxner

This month my cousin Andrew was feeling a little blue because the downtown branch of Barneys had closed, he'd missed the VH1 Fashion Awards (which are the Kennedy Center Honors for models), and his apartment was rejected for New York magazine's fall design issue, despite the fact that he had completely eliminated color. To cheer him up, we went to see Devil's Advocate, in which Keanu Reeves plays an ambitious young attorney from Gainesville, Florida, who gets courted by the head of a New York law firm, played by Al Pacino; Al turns out to be Satan, who, in the movies, is always portrayed as a hammy brunet. Keanu is not quite believable as either a southerner or someone with a graduate degree, but it doesn't matter. As Andrew -- who owns many Keanu collectibles, including the Keanu coasters and the cutting board -- said, "No one would ever buy a calendar of a real Florida lawyer."

Keanu is slim and trim and has his hair slicked back, although I still worried that in court he might say, "Um, Your Honor, my client is just so not-ever guilty." He's married to Charlize Theron, who comes with him to Manhattan, where Al's firm gets the couple an eight-room apartment on Fifth Avenue, which proves that, as we all know, Satan is a real-estate broker. Even God can't get you into a building on upper Fifth, where even Adam and Eve are considered new money. Keanu also gets tempted with lots of cash, limos, and gorgeous women in evening gowns fondling each other; he's basically offered the '80s, and I kept expecting Al to introduce his own boss, Michael Douglas.

Keanu is a pretty easy mark, since he gets all hot and yearning over Al and a pair of smirking bisexual babes in an elevator -- it's like watching someone being seduced by Bob Guccione on a cable show. Charlize, meanwhile, begins going mad, all because she can't fill her days with just decorating the apartment and shopping with the other lawyers' knockout wives, who force her to feel their breast implants. This is where the movie lost me, because, I'm sorry, eight rooms and a few Romeo Gigli outfits are just not enough to drive anyone mad; Satan has been doing some serious downsizing. And while Charlize is stunning -- even if her name sounds like some kicky new casual fragrance -- I have trouble sympathizing with anyone who gets institutionalized because she was forced to swatch upholstery fabrics and choose moldings.

Al won me back, though, in the movie's big, climactic scene, set in his huge, Gothic penthouse, where an enormous plaster wall sculpture of writhing bodies comes to life and beckons Keanu into Hades. Andrew was thrilled: "I always knew it!" he chortled. "Hell is a bad crafts project!" Al starts to yell about how boring God is, Keanu starts to yell back, and the movie turns into an Oscar competition for Loudest Acting, as if both stars were playing King Lear in Armani. Finally, Al reveals that Keanu is his son and tries to get him to produce an heir; Andrew and I agreed that Satan: The Next Generation would star Leonardo DiCaprio, who's never been shy about howling onscreen. Devil's Advocate is really trashy because it takes good and evil very seriously, in the tradition of the Damien movies and Casper; watching movie stars wrestling with their immortal souls is always a treat. "I just wish that Al had offered Keanu more true Hollywood perks," Andrew commented. "Like an investment in Planet Hollywood, a private audience with the Dalai Lama, or Sylvester Stallone's waterfront estate in South Beach, the one he's put on the market for $27 million because he had a new baby and was worried that the grounds aren't childproof."

Seeing Al and Keanu surrounded by flames and naked-yet-heavily-made-up actresses was wonderfully exhausting, like gorging on gelato and Snickers bars, but Andrew was still a bit down, because he hadn't seen the video for the new Celine Dion-Streisand duet, which, he said, was a far more important summit than Clinton and Jiang Zemin's; he hoped Barbra would ask Celine about human-rights abuses in Canada. So we went to see a private screening of Wilde, which is this new English movie starring Stephen Fry as Oscar Wilde. Wilde features many yards of Merchant Ivory brocade and fringe, and works very hard to show that Oscar was a loving husband, a devoted dad, and a kind, generous, mild-mannered fellow persecuted by English homophobia -- "Oh my Lord," Andrew said. "It's Dandhi." Stephen is great, but he mostly has to just smile graciously and not get too witty; he's like a warmhearted nanny, looking after those rascally rent boys of Picadilly and having carefully posed, dimly lit sex amid lots of deluxe linens and decadent throw pillows.

"Gay people are the hot new martyrs," Andrew explained. "Oscar Wilde is much easier to deal with if he's Mandela in a frock coat. He used to be brilliant and wicked, but now he's noble and tormented, and the audience gets to congratulate itself for being liberal -- we can all say, 'We would never let that happen to Ellen.' I bet the real Oscar would've liked Devil's Advocate way more." In Wilde, Oscar's wife just sits around glowing and waiting for Oscar to come home, like Donna Reed in a corset. Jude Law is the best thing in the movie, because he's playing Bosie, Oscar's snitty, spoiled boyfriend -- the only character who never has to behave. "Bosie was Oscar's Keanu," Andrew informed me.

To complete our marathon, we also went to see two art movies, Boogie Nights and The Ice Storm. Boogie Nights is all about the porn industry in Southern California in the '70s, and it stars Mark Wahlberg, who's terrific as a well-endowed busboy turned porn star. The movie is fun, but it's really long, and it has that indie-film thing of being interesting and boring at the same time. The whole movie feels like an educated guess, like a nice boy's idea of what porn people might be like, with a lot of Solid Gold '70s tunes on the soundtrack to keep the audience perky. The Ice Storm, which is set in the '70s in New Canaan, Connecticut, was completely amazing. Andrew and I just held each other and wept, remembering what it was like to grow up in houses with lemon yellow kitchens and Sputnik chandeliers and crepe-paper Thanksgiving decorations. The Ice Storm stars Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Joan Allen, and Christina Ricci, who are all so touching and such complete wrecks that they seem much more exposed than the people in Boogie Nights. Andrew and I agreed that the suburbs are the true gate of hell, and Andrew finally came out of his funk when he saw Christina eating from an early canister of potato chips. "I remember my first Pringles!" he sighed, and that's the healing power of film, if you ask me.

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Devil's Advocate, The


Devil's Advocate, The

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