Look, I didn't want to watch this movie. I know, I should have been finally getting around to watching The Godfather or some other classic I've been shamefully ignoring.
But I couldn't help it. I somehow found out about this movie - more specifically that its cast includes Malcolm McDowell, who was one of my first Imaginary Boyfriends (ah, those high school days of watching O Lucky Man, Clockwork Orange, and Cat People), as well as Christoph Waltz, who jumped onto my Imaginary Boyfriend list thanks to Inglourious Basterds (which is probably not a good thing, seeing as he was playing a ruthless Nazi in that film). You'd think I'd have learned after all this time not to rent really iffy-looking movies just because the actors in them tickle my fancy. Oh well. Live and learn. Or, not learn.
Pact With the Devil is a modernized version of The Picture of Dorian Gray. For those of you who snoozed your way through Literature 101, it's a novel by Oscar Wilde about an extremely handsome man who sells his soul to never show age or the consequences of a dissolute life - only a portrait of him shows what the real cost of his life has been. As you can probably already guess from its oh-so-subtle title, Pact With the Devil takes the basic idea of Wilde's novel and updates it, but doesn't bring anything else of much value to the movie.
Henry (Malcolm McDowell reliably evil and charismatic as always) is the manager of successful photographer Bae (Jennifer Nitsch). One day at a perfume ad photo shoot, Henry spies handsome gofer Louis (Ethan Erickson). Louis is an aspiring photographer, living in squalor but also happy enough with his lover Sybil. Henry, however, thinks Louis belongs on the other side of the camera. He proposes that Louis become a world-famous supermodel, and then Louis will be free to pursue photography. (No, it doesn't make any sense. Just roll with it.) In no time at all, Louis has changed his name to Dorian, thrown off Sybil and his photography work to become a supermodel man-whore, and oh yeah, acquired a photo portrait that shows an increasingly rode-hard-and-put-away-wet image of Dorian.
There's nothing intrinsically wrong with updating the Dorian Gray story to today's times - its themes of vanity and corruption are timeless. But screenwriters Peter Jobin and Ron Raley present us with a pretty lukewarm effort. The whole "becoming a supermodel" idea is pretty laughable - apparently all one has to do is be in one ad campaign and the world is yours! Nor have they done much with the characters - Louis/Dorian in particular is a cipher, which may well be the point but that doesn't make him entertaining to watch. There's a framing story told by Henry to a police detective that does nothing for the story and only helps the movie by giving McDowell more screen time. And speaking of screen time, I was tremendously disappointed that my other reason for watching this movie, Christoph Waltz, was on screen for less than 10 minutes (he's a European mover-and-shaker whose wife has a fling with Dorian, with predictable bad consequences for everyone). The most screen time is given over to Erickson as Dorian, and that's too bad. Erickson is handsome in a way that lends itself well to perfume ads, but the actor simply hasn't the charisma or talent to make us see him as anything other than another pretty face, and there's no reason to be interested in his situation other than to see how gross his portrait looks.
The screenplay is just the beginning of the movie's problems which range from a very dated look (it was filmed in Canada in 2002 but looks like the early 90s), too much "let's move the camera around to create drama" effects, and just overall ham-fistedness. Probably the most disappointing part is Dorian's portrait. Yes, it shows the ravages of time and hedonism but the ravages are so over the top - Portrait Dorian looks like a zombie from a Fulci movie - that it becomes laughable.
It's such a slight effort that I can't believe I've spent this much time talking about it. It's all McDowell and Waltz's fault.
DVD is full-screen and extras are limited to a trailer.