* * 1/2
Dir. Clive Barker
Lord of Illusions starts out promising with a self-assured, visually striking opening. It recalls Richard Stanley’s Dust Devil, perhaps in part because Simon Boswell scored both films. Then it jumps ahead 13 years and becomes a detective story that has presumably been created using some sort of film noir template software (that or Barker had watched The Postman Always Rings Twice, let’s saw twice, and figured he was good to go). Scott Bakula is probably miscast as Barker’s chessily named, hard-boiled and brooding detective Henry D’Amour. The Middle-American, “aw-shucks” nature of Bakula worked terrifically on Quantum Leap where he was an everyman caught in increasingly absurd situations, but here he doesn’t have the edge needed to pull off some of his lines or his larger back tattoo (exposed in one of the least sexy sex scenes I’ve seen). He does his best, but even a tougher actor probably couldn’t transcend the character’s template nature.
To my surprise, the film largely succeeds in spite of its cheesy, 90’s direct to video (even though this wasn’t), film-noir storyline (complete with saxophone score) in large part because of the novelty of the plot itself; there haven’t been a whole lot of movies made about an evil cult of magicians. But that’s also the ultimate disappointment of the film. There’s a Manson-family-esque dark magic cult here but instead of spending time with them, which would have been awesome, we spend it in a poorly done neo-noir. The film also pulls of the interesting feat of having a climax that is too long and drawn out but still terribly anti-climactic.
I still haven’t quite figured out Barker’s aesthetic, or the right words to describe it, other than frustrating. It seems like he is adept at creating grotesque images and some interesting ideas but these ideas play out in rather boring, uninteresting ways. It feels like horror icons; there’s an image of dread but nothing with any life to it. This is probably his least tedious film, and perhaps it’s also because it’s not as self-indulgently serious as something like Hellraiser. Maybe in that case, Bakula’s performance, while keeping this from being a classic, also keeps it from being a disaster.