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Movie review - "Devil's Advocate"

October 22, 1997

Review by Jason Myers

The devil comes in many disguises, but the most appealing has got to be Al Pacino hamming it up as John Milton, the senior partner in a New York law firm.

Milton, an allusion to the British author of the epic poem "Paradise Lost," has painted a business empire on the vast canvas of the globe, but it is when he finds hotdog Southern lawyer Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves) that he discovers a color he absolutely has to have on his palette.

"Devil's Advocate," directed by Taylor Hackford ("An Officer and a Gentleman"), easily is the most daring piece of filmmaking I have seen this year. Bathed in resplendent light and obvious metaphors, "Advocate" might be a bit too bright and blatant for a morality tale about good and evil, but it sure makes for euphoric entertainment.

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Lomax cuts his litigating teeth in Florida, but as he acquires an impressive no-loss record, Big City firms take notice of his incisors. He is recruited by the team of Milton, Chadwick, Waters to head up their new criminal defense branch. He and his wife Mary Ann (Charlize Theron) are intoxicated by the wine and spirit of Manhattan and the posh 5th Avenue apartment where the firm establishes them.

For a while, the film plays as a smarter, wittier variation on "The Firm," with Reeves not quite matching the charisma of Tom Cruise, but Theron balancing Keanu's dude blandness with hurricane torrents of emotion. Before she begins seeing visions of demons, though, she captures the attention of Milton at a party.

"The shoulders are the front lines of a woman's mystique," Pacino says with the carnal cool of a panther.

It is the coy joke of the film and Pacino, whose skin gleams with the hue of olive oil and whose teeth shine like ivory tusks, to portray Satan as the first and last in playboy sexiness.

With a character so fascinating and complicated as Lucifer, portrayed with such swaggering relish by Pacino, the only way the movie's maker had to go was to create a dull hero and hire a limited actor to play him. Only Lomax is given enough emotional dimension, and, to his credit, Reeves puts some flavor into it, so the audience is not bored.

That is one thing this film will not allow. Even as "Devil's Advocate" grows unbearably outlandish with soprano choirs and religious overtones, it never loses its grip on the jugular.

Lomax works diligently in his new position, putting in so many hours that when he comes home to find his wife descending into a nightmare of things that go bump in the night, his only reaction is exasperation - as if to say, "I'm making all this money, how could you possibly have a nervous breakdown?"

It is not long, of course, before his own mind is aswarm with demonic thoughts. When he first enters Milton's penthouse, darkened by shades of green and black marble, and discovers there is only one room and no bed, he asks his fellow lawyers "Where does he (have sex)?" To which Pacino readily replies, "Everywhere."

Lomax is tempted to sin by the flesh. When he is making love to his wife, he envisions that she is a woman with curly tresses a shade as red and brown as blood. This vixen, a talented lawyer from the office, Lomax also encounters in the elevator as she escorts Milton and another beauty up to the devil-ish ladies' man's apartment.

"Devil's Advocate" simmers with sexual heat, but it is really a cautionary tale about excess. It seems ironic, though, that to point out the flaws of our era, the film resorts to lavish spectacle.

By the end of the two hours and 20 minutes, whether you laugh or frown at its criticisms of culture and religion, you will be exhausted, but you will have had one hot time.

Jason Myers is a senior at North Hagerstown High School.

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