“Good trash” can be hard to define. A good trashy movie should be entertaining, but not complete fluff. It should be stupid, but not insulting. It should be The Devil’s Advocate.
The Devil’s Advocate revolves around the idea that lawyers are tools of the devil and use the law to give the devil a greater hold over mankind. I am shocked, shocked to find this out. It’s actually a pretty interesting idea, but any serious consideration of it goes out the window when we meet our protagonist, hotshot Florida lawyer Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves). I shouldn’t be too harsh on Keanu – he tries very hard here, and his accent is better than I would have expected. But he will always be Bill or Ted to me (I can never remember which) and impossible to take seriously as a lawyer who’s never once lost a case.
We see Lomax in action during a quite creepy scene where he defends a grade-school teacher who’s been accused of molesting one of his students. Lomax knows the man is guilty but overcomes his distaste, discredits the molested girl’s testimony, and wins the case. Soon after he’s offered a position at a swank Manhattan law firm headed by Al Pacino, whose character (in one of many “GET IT??” moments) is named John Milton. Lomax takes the job and starts winning big cases. He and his wife Mary Ann (Charlize Theron) move into a posh apartment, hobnobbing with the rich and famous, and living the high life. Until Mary Ann starts sinking into depression and hallucinations, and Lomax learned his new boss isn’t quite what he appears to be.
The Devil’s Advocate is a subtle film, in the way that an anvil dropped on one’s head is subtle, and that’s part of its fun. Everything is over-the-top, from the set design of the law offices to the legal grandstanding. Most over-the-top is Pacino, who plays Milton as a lusty, foul-mouthed guy who’s all about appeasing his appetites for money, power, winning, women, and so on. At the same time it’s a fairly one-note performance, and by the time the final big hoo-hah speech comes, you’ll be wishing Pacino would shut up for five minutes, and wondering why the Prince of Darkness is such a one-dimensional character.
Charlize Theron does a good job as the wife who’s lured by the good life but finds herself lonely, ignored, depressed, and vulnerable to evil (at one point she gets a radically short haircut, which anyone who’s seen Rosemary’s Baby will tell you is never a good sign).
The movie looks gorgeous, and director Taylor Hackford wields his cinematic bag of tricks with great glee. At times he seems to think he’s doing a remake of Koyaanisqatsi, with inexplicable speeded-up skyscapes, but it all works with the bombastic nature of the movie.
If you’re in the mood for some fun that’s clever and stupid at the same time, you could do lots worse than The Devil’s Advocate.
Extras include trailers and a commentary by Hackford