Archive for September 1, 1995

The Prophecy

September 1, 1995

“See ya, kids,” says Christopher Walken to a group of schoolchildren in The Prophecy. “Study your math.” I don’t think I’ve laughed harder at a movie moment since … well, since Walken’s gold-watch monologue in Pulp Fiction. Walken didn’t start out playing villains, but about ten years ago, somewhere around A View to a Kill and At Close Range, he must have decided to capitalize on his unusual vocal rhythms and vampire-from-the-ice-planet features. It’s been a shrewd move. In most of Walken’s films now, he’s the droll spider amused by the struggles of the fly. And in The Prophecy, a mostly ridiculous religioso thriller (call it Pulp Crucifixion) in which Walken plays some sort of hard-ass angel, almost everything he did struck me funny, whether or not the script intended it that way. “Hi,” he says to a befuddled nurse. “Someone’s gonna die soon. I can smell these things.” Indeed he can; not a person or object onscreen goes unsniffed by Walken. I like to think that Walken flipped through the script, realized how lame it was, and decided to have some fun anyway. He’s the only reason not to nod off.

The hero of The Prophecy is Elias Koteas as a cop who was once a candidate for the priesthood. He alone understands the nature of the war brewing in Heaven — a war waged over human souls by bitter angels jealous of God’s love for us. In a way, I like this movie because it refutes all those cotton-headed books about nurturing guardian angels on our shoulders. The Prophecy confirms that angels do exist, except they dress and act like reservoir dogs.

One such angel is Simon, embodied by Eric Stoltz, who’s had the exact same look for about five consecutive movies now; I expected to see a Speed Racer T-shirt under his dark overcoat. Simon, who’s supposed to be a good angel, hangs out in an abandoned schoolroom, giving off child-molester vibes: “Mary — that’s a very pretty name,” he remarks to a little girl. Simon picks the prettily named Mary to be the container for the soul of a recently deceased colonel — a soul coveted by archangel Gabriel (Walken) for strategic purposes in the celestial war and, gee, are your eyelids getting heavy yet? Gabriel spends the movie stalking Mary, and I wondered why simple Simon put the soul into a vulnerable little girl instead of, say, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who could snap Gabriel in half without breaking stride.

This is Gregory Widen’s debut as a director (he worked on the scripts for Highlander — another dippy mystical number with an unaccountably large cult of fans — and the 1991 fireman drama Backdraft), and with The Prophecy he’s made what he possibly hopes is this year’s The Crow — a hip, morbid freak-out that college kids prepare for in the parking lot, if you catch my drift. But except for Walken and Adam Goldberg (Dazed and Confused) as his morose sidekick the movie is awfully short on entertainment; by the time Viggo Mortensen turns up as Satan, all atwinkle at his own evil wit, it’s too little too late. Widen gets off on Gabriel’s icy amorality (as do we), but he also wants us to buy his message that we humans are imperfect yet worthy couriers of God’s promise of love. Movies have never been adept at this sort of jazz, and about halfway through The Prophecy I gave up and simply looked forward to Walken, who somehow triumphs over his insipid hairdo (it looks like a black cat died on his head) and makes a spectator sport out of keeping himself amused.