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Devil in the Details

The Ninth Gate is just a tease

You can go ahead and throw out those expectations of being terrified or even a little shaken up by Roman Polanski's new Rosemary's Baby-esque tale of Satan and his demon lovers. I'll save you the grief I experienced at wishing, at every scene change, that this movie would give me chills already - scare the shit out of me, please, like the dark, beautiful, cruelly misleading opening sequence promises to do.

The movie follows Dean Corso (Johnny Depp), a mercenary rare book expert, as he tracks down copies of a 16th century text called The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows for a creepy, sinfully rich publisher called Boris Balkan (Frank Langella). Balkan wants to make sure his own edition isn't a fake (it just isn't summoning the Devil like it's supposed to. Damn!). Corso takes the bait when he's offered a huge sum of cash to comb Portugal and France (he believes in his percentage, not Satan), comparing volumes of the Nine Gates. The atmosphere immediately gets sinister. Strange things keep happening to the ever-curious Corso: the faces he meets start to show up in the pictures; his last bastion of trust, aptly called Bernie, is murdered; and some scaffolding falls and nearly crushes him. To top it off, there's a freaky looking character called The Girl (Emmanuelle Seigner) who keeps popping up, glaring at Corso with her Cat People green eyes. Once in Europe, Corso accepts The Girl as his guardian angel because of her ability to show up at the precise moment death comes knocking to bust a few kickboxing moves on Corso's pursuer du jour. Meanwhile, Corso continues to search for the texts, stepping over dead bodies with minimal concern and upping his dosage of whiskey and cigarettes to soften the dark mysteries surrounding him.

Balkan steps up the pressure when someone snags his copy of the Nine Gates out of Corso's posh Paris hotel room. A convoluted grand finale ensues, with Depp's character reduced to cheesy one-liners and a ridiculous, scorching love scene with guess who. Depp, like the rest of the film, just needed to push his too-subdued performance over the edge a bit. He doesn't give Corso enough believability as a potentially dangerous man - I didn't despise him enough, just like I didn't buy Lena Olin (in what might be her worst performance; it takes more than tossing your hair to make you a socialite bitch) as an ominous femme fatale. Aside from these letdowns, the performances are generally skillful and the archaic European scenery is beautiful enough, but all that can't come close to making up for Polanski's painstakingly disappointing take on what could have been a spine chilling story.

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The Ninth Gate
rated R
2 hours 7 minutes

Johnny Depp
Lena Olin
Emmanuelle Seigner
Frank Langella
James Russo