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Overall Rating

Awesome: 19.44%
Worth A Look: 16.67%
Just Average: 19.44%
Pretty Crappy40.28%
Sucks: 4.17%

8 reviews, 24 user ratings

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Holy Smoke
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by Jack Sommersby

"Kate Winslet + Harvey Keitel + Jane Campion = Near-miss"
2 stars

Starts off fine but loses its way with an ambitious but clunky and obvious screenplay.

If Holy Smoke! were a simply terrible film (which it isn't), it would still get brownie points for including two marvelous Neil Diamond songs, Holly Holy and I Am, I Said, on its soundtrack. With the exception of 1980's The Jazz Singer (which starred the Diamond Man himself), few films have employed this man's glorious tunes for the silver screen; and the fact that these two songs are played over the segments introducing the two lead characters shows that the co-writer/director of the piece, Jane Campion, sees artisitic merit in them. Diamond's songs aren't just aesthetic sin to the ears but emotionally rich, as well, telling a complete and moving story in just a few minutes. This may seem like a minor thing, but when you view the numerous generic pop tunes infiltrating most soundtracks as mostly disposable, it's vitally refreshing to experience fantastic music used for the good of a film. Neil Diamond's songs here punctuate, rather than puncture, the action, and provide the film with energy and bravado. Still, having given Campion credit for employing them, her film, though initially interesting, is an unfortunate, muddled mess. It starts off well, and for the the first thirty minutes or so it promises to be a return to form for Campion, who followed her superb, Oscar-winning The Piano with the maddeningly-indifferent adaption of Henry James' The Portrait of a Lady. But it doesn't take long for tedium to set in, and you get the distinct feeling that Campion just hasn't thought the material through, or has thought it through but not in particularly organic terms. It's a film with purpose and vision, all right, but it's also a film that strays off-course many times too often, lacking both a center and a through-line.

The central conflict on display here is between Kate Winslet's Ruth and Harvey Keitel's P.J. Waters. Ruth is feared to have been brainwashed by a cult in India, so her parents have hired P.J., a world-renowned deprogrammer, or "cult exiter", to cleanse their daughter of supposed spiritual impurities. P.J., who dresses like a macho hipster in black shirts, jeans and cowboy boots, has successfully exited one-hundred percent of his clients, with only a three-to-four-percent regression rate -- the best record of anyone in the U.S. and U.K., he claims. He insists on isolation with Ruth over a three-day period, and, of course, things don't go as smoothly as planned, with Ruth being much stronger than expected and P.J.'s tough exterior giving way to an insecure inner self, which Ruth seizes upon and manipulates him with. The character of P.J. is never entirely believable, due to the lack of development of the role and the miscasting of Keitel. Deprogramming strikes one as a very interesting process to take in, but all we get here is P.J. making points to Ruth that aren't particularly clever or insightful; and for his main ammunition he shows her and her family a documentary of dangerous cults, featuring the likes of Charles Manson and David Koresch, and this supposedly breaks something free in Ruth and she temporarily "sees the light." But there's nothing indicative of anything inherently dangerous in Ruth's spiritual leader, so this "breakthrough" comes off as moot. P.J. doesn't seem to be really doing anything other than lecturing and listening like a regular psychologist would, and we're left thinking how wasteful the family had been to blow over ten-thousand dollars on his dubious services.

Added to which, Keitel doesn't bring the right presence to the role. Oddly, this Brooklyn-born actor who's played many Brooklyn wiseguys was more convincing as a New Zealand jungle native in The Piano than the New York-based professional he plays here. When miscast, Keitel lets the strain show. I's fairly obvious he's uncomfortable in the role, and just as he did in 1994's mediocre Imaginary Crimes, where he played a flawed domestic family man, he has the annoying habit of overaccentuating the vowels and consonants in his line readings, as if he were in speech class and the instructor were grading with a very low tolerance for casual speech. When Keitel mouths his dialogue here, he leaps out at you with artificiality, and I couldn't help thinking how potentially dynamic things could have been had Winslet had a more focused and intense actor to spar with, like, say, James Woods, who played a deprogrammer himself in 1982's Split Image. (It also doesn't help that P.J. has been too obviously intended to stand in for all those male blowhards who exude toughness yet are internally hurting.) As for Winslet, though this isn't a film worthy of her taking chances like doing full-frontal nudity (as pleasing it is to the eyes) and urinating down her legs while lustfully walking towards Keitel, and though she sometimes seem aloof and overly studied, she manages to pull off a couple of remarkable emotional moments and even manages to overcome the rotten dialogue Campion and her sister Anna (who made a horrendous directorial debut with 1996's mumbo-jumbo psychological thriller Loaded) have saddled her with ("Oh, you're so brainy, you're so big! Can I suck your dick?".)

Just as The Piano infuriated a lot of male chauvinists and their overly-obedient spouses with its going-against-the-grain, liberated heroine, Holy Smoke! is bound to rile the feathers of people of closed-minded religious beliefs (along with those same chauvinists and spouses, probably). The majority of those supporting the right to pray in school aren't for prayer in general but for Christian prayer in school; if a Christian parent learned that a Christian prayer was recited like the National Anthem at their child's football game, they'd be happy, yet if a Muslim or Catholic or Jewish prayer had been the thing recited, they'd go certifiably ballistic, to say the very least. To them, religion is the nucleus of life, but only as long as it coincides with their views, and this is what the Campions have touched upon here. From what we witness, Ruth seems a clear-minded person who seems totally at ease with herself and the world around her, but her parents automatically jump to conclusions because they're completely unfamiliar with the guru she's dedicated her soul to: they view him as the leader of a dangerous cult because they have absolutely no knowledge pertaining to the particulars behind it. And Holy Smoke! scores its biggest points in letting us see just how limiting close-mindedness can be for people by never allowing themselves to seek and explore possibilities and answers in life's many uncertainties outside their comfortable frame of reference.

To the film's credit, Ruth hasn't been myopically written as disgruntled by her previous religious and world views and falls under the spell of a guru because of that -- she's simply more open and welcoming to new information, and is therefore more receptive to the unknown possibilities that are out there for the taking if one has the courage to drop one's pretenses, take a chance, and see the world without blinders on. In the deplorable Forrest Gump, the staunch right-wing filmmakers seemed to be justifying (and saluting) the title character's girlfiend's AIDS-related death because she didn't live according to everyone else's rules and took some chances in life; with Holy Smoke!, the Campions are standing up and cheering a heroine for the willingness to do with her life what she sees fit, without consulting a Big Brother-like handbook to guide her. Sadly, though, while Ruth had the potential to be a fantastic, resonant and deeply penetrating character (perhaps an Australian female Holden Caufield of the new century), the writing hasn't provided her with enough dimensions and the necessary dramatic underpinnings to help lend gravitas to both her and the shaky story. The fundamental problem is that you can sense the Campions' basic intentions but also remain opaque as to the means in achieving their vision -- when Keitel is reduced to donning a pink dress and smears himself with red lipstick while flailing about in the back of a pickup truck in a hysteric, mumbling state, you're perfectly just in concluding that the Campions have truly lost their minds. And many of the sequences are flabby and poorly shaped, with a dire absence of narrative rhythm making the running time seem much longer than it is. It's not even a decently-photographed motion picture, either -- the cinematographer, Dion Bebe, can't seem to make up his mind whether he's lighting a "film" or a "movie". Luckily, there are those Neil Diamond tunes. Without them, Holy Smoke! would definitely not be much to sing home about.

Rent "The Piano" instead.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=974&reviewer=327
originally posted: 03/17/03 18:00:59
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User Comments

12/26/07 Mohammed kate is awesome,i wish i could see her peeing. she has a lovely bumb 4 stars
10/11/04 mas as 2 stars
10/10/04 Ian The only redeeming feature "Kate"..the worst? Harvy keitel 2 stars
2/18/04 Aslam Khan Her peeing got me really turned on. I wish I could see her cunt. 4 stars
1/24/04 Elena It was beautifully shot but I still don't get WHY Kate would have sex with that douchebag! 4 stars
8/11/03 asif stuart it was a sexiest movie with a charming kate winslet.i like it. 5 stars
12/30/02 Jack Sommersby Ambitious but pretty ridiculous. Winslet's superb; Keitel woefully miscast. 2 stars
11/16/02 R.W. Welch Some intereting aspects but much of it just drags. 3 stars
11/03/02 Sheridan Intelligent and hard-hitting, with a brilliant performance from Kate 5 stars
8/23/01 umair i want to fuck kate and want my pinis into her sexy body .And her nipple into my mouth. 1 stars
7/03/01 Piz Winslet is fucking awesome, the movie isn't as good 2 stars
2/20/01 Rocket Boy The Campion sisters create a haunting, remarkable film here. 5 stars
11/16/00 Jacob Holder Probably one of the most underdeveloped pieces of cinema trash--very, very poor 1 stars
5/15/00 Tracy What was Jane Campion thinking? And Kate Winslet for that matter. 2 stars
4/13/00 Bec Pannell Some deep concerns about the portrayal of Australians 4 stars
3/05/00 vicky harwood does she need to wet herself then not shower for 3 days? check it out 1 stars
2/25/00 Costars Wonderful parts, whole too contrived 4 stars
2/24/00 Heather Ha ha, great movie, Keitel in a dress is one of the best movie scenes this year! 5 stars
1/30/00 Annie Nomad A spiritual/sexual "thriller". 5 stars
1/12/00 graham A little bit to much humour. 4 stars
12/24/99 Tha Obsequious Bad Janatah An excellent and complex screenplay by the Campions!Jane is great in this unusual territory 5 stars
12/05/99 Kay Greeeeeeeaaaaaat! 5 stars
12/05/99 MrShowbiz Jane Campion blows smoke with this muddled psychosexual satire. 3 stars
12/05/99 PurityJustBegs Kate, oh Kate.. thou art luminous.. 5 stars
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  03-Dec-1999 (R)


  26-Dec-1999 (MA)

Directed by
  Jane Campion

Written by
  Jane Campion
  Anna Campion

  Kate Winslet
  Harvey Keitel
  Pam Grier

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