Mitch Glazer's PASSION PLAY is a labor of love two decades in the making, a go-for-broke piece of magical realism that brings together Mickey Rourke, Bill Murray and Megan Fox as, respectively, a washed-up jazz trumpeter, a murderously possessive mobster, and a beautiful carnival freak with big feathery wings sprouting out of her back. It's certainly one of the more least-expected love triangles you'll ever encounter. Add in some gorgeous neo-noir cinematography from the great Christopher Doyle, and you've got a one-of-a-kind movie to which attention must be paid.
This is Glazer's first go as a director, and it's a long way from the kind of caustic, pitch-black comedy he once wrote with the late Michael O'Donoghue. PASSION PLAY is a fearlessly sincere film about the redemptive power of love; from its forthright title to the writ-large symbolism of Fox's angelic character, the movie gives you no choice but to embrace its delirious romanticism. It's got the wild earnestness of a Sam Shepard work, only not quite as savage and far less ambiguous; Glazer knows precisely what he wants you to feel by the end of the movie, and it's to his credit that he makes the climactic big gesture in an attempt to summon those emotions. Budget limitations aside (which mostly impact the quality of the CGI), this is undoubtedly the movie Glazer set out to make.
That Glazer managed to complete the film without much of a hassle seems a minor miracle; more experienced directors have been steamrolled by the intimidating likes of Rourke and Murray. Fortunately, Glazer has a long history with both actors: he attended the same high school as Rourke, and came up through the late-'70s/early-'80s comedy ranks with Murray. There's a mutual trust here, and it's especially apparent when Rourke and Murray share the screen. Surprisingly, Murray mostly dominates Rourke in their scenes together; it's reminiscent of the dynamic from John McNaughton's MAD DOG AND GLORY - only unlike De Niro, Rourke has the bulk to bump back if he so chooses. But he allows himself to be ground down; Rourke's as vulnerable here as he was in THE WRESTLER, and his sadness brings out a real performance from Fox (who, as she showed in the unjustly maligned JENNIFER'S BODY, is capable of more than mere summer-movie adornment).