Opened: October 17, 1997 | Rated: R
The logical culmination of three years of "Pulp Fiction" knock-offs working their way into the Hollywood mainstream, "Playing God" is a high gloss, Technicolor turn in the pulpy playground of darkly funny crime flicks.
Starring David Duchovny as a license-revoked surgeon who stitches up bullet holes in mobsters on the sly, "Playing God" retains the seamy wit and ironic charm of this emerging genre, but drops the excessive blood and features characters that can successfully form a sentence without using the word "fuck."
Call it a Tarantino movie you could take your mom to see.
"Playing God" opens with Dr. Eugene Sands (Duchovny) visiting a back alley nightclub to feed the drug habit that lost him his promising career as a surgeon.
When a gunfight breaks out in the middle of the dance floor, he becomes Dr. "MacGuyver," saving a guy's life in a makeshift operation using an Evian bottle and a knife sterilized with a cigarette lighter.
Gracious mid-level mob man Raymond Blossom (Timothy Hutton) offers the doctor steady work repairing wounded criminals, a job that keeps him in the chips but far away from regaining his credibility.
I've always thought of Hutton as some kind of an aging boy-next-door type, but evidently I've misjudged him. Following the Tarantino outline he would be the Travolta-esque character here (with a little of George Clooney's physical quirkiness tossed in), and he's clearly having a ball playing this fashion plate L.A. criminal with a measured violent streak.
Duchovny's Dr. Sands is a dry and mild-mannered guy who can nonetheless hold his own against Raymond, and the good doctor soon finds himself performing on-the-spot operations on a ridiculous number of occasions.
Each of these scenes is intentionally accompanied by a heavy dose of whimsy. The filmmakers know it's preposterous to do surgery on a pool table in a smoky biker bar -- but just play along, will you.
Life starts getting complicated for Sands when he gets the hots for the mobster's girlfriend (Angelina Jolie, "Hackers") at the same time he's approached by FBI agents, who offer to overlook his unlicensed medical practice if he helps them bust Raymond.
Despite minor story inconsistencies and an unnecessarily loquacious voice-over by Duchovny, "Playing God" works because never take itself seriously. The actors deadpan everything, but an underlying ironic humor is in every scene.
Director Andy Wilson, a feature film rookie from England, spit shines the hipster criminal formula to give it more of a studio feel, but he doesn't allow his movie to become trite in any way.
Duchovny and Jolie, a talented actress with unnaturally bee-stung lips and dark, intelligent eyes, play their sexual tension close to the vest (they don't even kiss) and both embody their characters with a adequate charisma.
But Hutton steal the movie with his caffeinated, reptilian performance. Precariously flirting with going over-the-top, he routinely upstages everyone simply because he is the most fun to watch.