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Movie Review: 'Fallen' seems to have fallen victim to 'Januaria'

January 29, 1998

"Fallen," the latest episode of "The X-Files," er, I mean the new supernatural thriller starring Denzel Washington, is not so much a film as a symptom of MTV cinematic culture.

As symptoms go, it will not require immediate medical attention, but when seen with the likes of, say, "Spice World" rash or "Hard Rain" simplex II, it could be a sign of the disease known to film critics as Januaria.

This obscure phenomenon results when a discerning, discriminating viewer goes to the multiplex in January - also known as the dumping ground for Hollywood tripe.

"Fallen" probably will be as quickly forgotten as other recent releases, if not as immediately painful. The film boasts a literate, intricate plot which mostly is involving, but also has been made before.


"Fallen" is a bit of David Fincher macabre, which is really Tim Burton gothic gloom, which shares elements with Oliver Stone paranoid hallucination, which all borrow from Alfred Hitchcock dread, which adapts the literature of Philip Marlowe and Edgar Allan Poe.

Watching "Fallen," I felt not so much as though I was seeing a movie written by Nicholas Kazan and directed by Gregory Hoblit as a channel-surf daydream through postmodern millenialism.

The makers borrow astutely from Stone, aping his usage of various film grains, and Fincher, placing their character in a nameless noir urban setting. It's a story about a detective John Hobbes (Washington), enthralled in a neo-Biblical serial killer case, but when you subtract the spooky Eastern music from the soundtrack and the spooky Donald Sutherland (as Hobbes' police lieutenant) from the cast, there is nothing left but a Cliffs Notes version of "Seven."

"Fallen" is the kind of dire, dark movie Marilyn Manson fans would think of as a lullaby.

A fascinating premise carries the film. Hobbes gets stalked, post-mortem, by a serial killer (Elias Koteas), who was really merely a host to the voodoo spirit Azazel, which passes from body to body by touch. Hoblit creates several dense "chase" scenes in which Beelzebub, er, Azazel drifts through a throng of people as Denzel stands back and looks confused. I would have admired the hazy look employed for Azazel's point-of-view, if it were not so obviously Stone's style and if it did not reduce the plot to an acid trip written down.

"Fallen" lacks a compelling center. Denzel is a fine actor, but he can smolder only so much before you wish his character would have a life. By the time Hobbes begins to understand the metaphysical force trailing him like a Bill Clinton scandal, "Fallen" attains a smug self-importance.

Its religious allusions are meant to provide sophistication and spiritual depth to the film, but they rather make it seem shallow. Simplistic philosophy - "Why do we live?" Hobbes asks his partner, played by John Goodman in a thankless role - interferes with what could have been a marvelous mystery.

"Fallen" joins the ranks of motion pictures whose themes impose structure rather than the the story illustrating the theme. What has distinguished great films noir is their ability to imply morality (or lack thereof) in the story rather than to attach a story to limp suppositions about humanity.

Like the recent "Devil's Advocate," a more enjoyable, if less elegant, film, "Fallen" cannot decide to take our culture's decadent obsessions seriously or to revel in the loose-spirit environment that incites them.

In the end, both movies leave it up to the Rolling Stones to figure it out. If I were the Stones' public relations director, I would start saving their songs for movies with less rancid religiosity.

Jason is a senior at North Hagerstown High School.

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