A lot of guys would give their right arm for a date with Angelina Jolie, and Antonio Banderas is shocked when she shows up ready to become his wife sight unseen. In Original Sin, a wealthy merchant marries a beautiful maiden hours after meeting her for the first time. No sooner has he turned over the keys to the castle than his bride cleans out his bank accounts and vanishes. A film of double-cross and deception, not to mention characters that moonlight as three other people, Original Sin is melodramatic and ridiculous but not a complete waste of your time.
After a short courtship by letter, Cuban Luis Antonio Vargas (Banderas) sends for American Julia Russell (Jolie) to join him in marriage. When she arrives on the dock in Havana, Julia is not the woman pictured in the photo she sent Luis. Julia explains that she wanted a husband attracted to more than looks, hence the deception. Luis also kept a secret by intentionally misleading Julia about his affluence. Luis is instantly smitten with Julia, who refuses to immediately join her new husband in bed. Things eventually get steamy, but then, as quickly as she arrived, Julia vanishes, taking with her both Luis's money and desire to live.
At one point during the film, Julia remarks how she loves the melodrama of theater. Original Sin is ultimately a sexed up 19th-century costume drama more concerned with its number of twists than their quality. From the beginning, something is off about Julia, and, while Luis may be too punch-drunk to notice, the average viewer can easily spot the cracks in her façade. Things get especially weird when Julia refuses to speak to her sister, who is frantically trying to track her down. After Julia flees the coup, Luis enlists Walter Downs (Thomas Jane) to help him track her down. It's at this point that Original Sin becomes primarily about Luis's obsession with a woman he barely knows.
Many of the players are not who they seem in Original Sin, and the cast list on IMDb is a spoiler in itself. I'll focus on the two leads so as not to give too much away. It's hard to feel sorry for Luis when he gets hosed. It's even more difficult to listen to his constant whining about his love for Julia and desperation to find her again. Sure, Julia/Jolie is a hot prospect, but the woman is clearly crazy. Luis doesn't exactly coddle Julia, but somehow he misses her blatant mental instability. What she's involved in isn't all that surprising, though Original Sin does pack a few surprises I didn't see coming.
Clocking in just south of two hours, Original Sin feels bloated. What starts off strong and winds up as trashy entertainment is bogged down by a slow middle. Most of this section is spent following Luis around as he carries on. Banderas is a good actor, but his character is grating. Director Michael Cristofer, who directed Jolie in Gia, apparently has a thing for skin flicks, and he includes quite a bit of, dare I say it, unnecessary tussling. He clearly recognizes some of Jolie's best assets, though she does quite well with her clothes on, too.
Once you've seen Original Sin there's not much reason to see it again. The more sensational developments don't hold up well under scrutiny, and the film is not so thrilling or titillating as to require multiple viewings. The film is adequately shot, edited and acted, but it never rises much above its status as a daytime cable repeat offender.
MGM has been on a roll lately with their catalog releases, but I wasn't expecting Original Sin to be atop the list of films getting a high-def upgrade. The film's middling popularity may explain why I wasn't particularly impressed with the 2.35:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer. No sparkling restoration has gone into the presentation for Original Sin, which suffers from a host of issues. On the plus side, the film receives a high bitrate, and I noticed few compression artifacts. Colors are decent, and skin tones natural. Softness is a problem for the image, which often looks blurry and shallow, and detail suffers. The print used for the Blu-ray is surprisingly dirty, and I noticed a lot of specks, dirt and scratches. Edge enhancement is also a problem, particularly in a scene on the harbor in Havana, and the movie's appearance is more digital than filmic.
The film's 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is better than the transfer, but still far from impressive. Dialogue is clear and sticks to the center channel. The surround and rear speakers occasionally come to life, but effects aren't particularly well dispersed, and sounds tend to pop up here and there without a constant flow. Effects, dialogue and score all are harmonious, and the track is adequate for the material. Spanish and French Dolby 5.1 tracks are also available, as are English SDH, Spanish and French subtitles.
Original Sin is presented on Blu-ray in its unrated version, which runs 118 minutes and offers 120 more seconds of sex than the theatrical cut. Extras include an audio commentary from Director Michael Cristofer, in which he shares production anecdotes and discusses Francois Truffaut's Mississippi Mermaid, the film upon which Original Sin is based. Also included are a Gloria Estefan music video and the film's theatrical trailer.
Padded with sex and nonsensical twists, Original Sin is unsubtle and hardly a great thriller. Even so, fans of Angelina Jolie and Antonio Banderas may enjoy this costume thriller set in 19th-century Cuba that explores the limit of one man's love for an alluring and dangerous woman. MGM's Blu-ray won't blow you away, and the film's replay value is limited. Rent It.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.