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March 10 - 17, 2000

[Movie Reviews]

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The Ninth Gate

by Peter Keough

The NInth Gate Roman Polanski is in bed with the devil -- maybe that's the message of his perfunctory, occasionally puckish The Ninth Gate. The director's girlfriend, Emmanuelle Seigner, plays a mysterious woman with shining eyes and ninja abilities who shadows Dean Corso (Johnny Depp in another chameleon-like transformation) as he searches for an old book that can summon Satan. But might she be Satan herself? It doesn't make much difference as Polanski merely slums in the brimstony regions he brought to infernal life in Rosemary's Baby; Corso's investigation, peering into the more baroque nooks of Europe, is literally by the numbers. Based on Arturo Pérez Reverte's overrated bestseller The Club Dumas (Umberto Eco by way of Dean Koontz), Gate does summon up a fair share of atmosphere, suspense, and the filmmaker's trademark macabre humor -- a Black Mass near the end is a hilarious corrective to the ponderous orgy in Eyes Wide Shut. And Frank Langella is diabolically menacing and pathetic as Boris Balkan, the Faustian collector who hires Corso to find the book. But the lure of damnation and dementia that appears so ecstatic and absurd in Polanski's other work here is merely weary and self-parodic. The circularity of the final image is a commentary more on the filmmaker's creative rut than on the rewards of transgression.
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