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Cranky Critic® Reviews:

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Starring Patricia Arquette, Gabriel Byrne, Jonathan Pryce, Nia Long, Rade Serbedgia
Screenplay by Tom Lazarus and Rick Ramage
Directed by Rupert Wainwright
website: www.mgm.com/stigmata

IN SHORT: A great commercial for a non-scary flick. [Rated [R], 102 minutes, 5 seconds]

If you were fascinated by the Stigmata television commercial, try to imagine watching 60 straight minutes of it. That editing overkill is what stops Stigmata dead in its tracks as a movie. If it were a mathematical formula, Stigmata would = (Blade - vampires) + (The Exorcist - pea soup and obscenity) / story. Drawing heavily from Christian mysticism and attacking the inner political construction of the Roman Catholic church, Stigmata spends more time allowing director Rupert Wainwright to show off his photographic knowledge and editing chops than it does on the story. Cranky was ready to yell at the screen "Hey! It's story time already" when just enough intrigue dribbled out to keep his attention focussed for a few more minutes. Unfortunately it was way too little, far too late.

Stigmata features a lot of effects -- levitation, blood, fire -- and one, true mystery: how is it that the wounds of Christ manifest themselves on the body of a cute blonde resident of Pittsburgh, PA? The Vatican has a special section, the Special Congregation for the Causes of Saints -- whose job it is to investigate religious mysteries and its Cardinal Houseman (Jonathan Pryce) dispatches Father Andrew Kiernan (Gabriel Byrne) to investigate. This is the second investigation Kiernan does in this movie, the first involving a South American statue of the Virgin Mary that weeps tears of human blood. There's a tenuous link between the two, but I'll leave that for you to discover.

When Kiernan finds the lovely Frankie Paige (Patricia Arquette), his investigation ends almost as quickly as it begin, for Frankie is not a member of the True Church. That means she, and her wounds, is of no interest to his section. But Frankie speaks in tongues -- turns out to be the kind of Aramaic spoken 2000 years ago in Galilee -- and has scribbled strange characters on the walls of her loft. They, too, are Aramaic, and the words therein are part of a hidden document that could shake the theosophical nature of the Vatican to its core.

Stigmata features a gorgeous first hour of photographic effects and heavy duty editing over a soundtrack of techno-heavy metal music. For purposes of this film, it is constantly raining in Pittsburgh, which means lots of slow motion shots of water dripping and plopping. The Catholic Church, being loaded with symbols and icons, this film also goes heavy on symbolic things whose meaning is quite beyond the knowledge of this Member of the Tribe. What I do know is that Stigmata is based on two fragments (part of phrase 3 and the latter half of phrase 77) of the Dead Sea Scroll called The Gospel of Thomas, which this film has used to create a "new" text that is even more heretical than the "Thomas". Anyone that has studied the Dead Sea Scrolls (Cranky pleads guilty) can tell you that there are lots of tempting heretical bits and pieces that would fascinate anyone that has even a mild knowledge of Christianity. Stigmata drowns any interesting mystery in so much visual nonsense that it defeats the purpose of any movie, to tell a good and interesting story. There is a story here, but it's buried way too deep. And, of course, time is wasted while the priest is tempted by the blonde. Been there, done that.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Stigmata, he would have paid...


Rental level. Oh, yeah. The Gospel of Thomas is attributed to Didymos Judas Thomas, founder of the Eastern Church and Twin Brother of Jesus. Told ya it was a good bit of heretical bit info. Theoretically, the Gospel of Mary is even worse, 'cuz it strips the Vatican of any authority as guardian and sole arbiter of the Word. But that's a story for a different movie.

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