Starring: Scott Bakula, Famke Janssen, Kevin J. O'Connor, Joel Swetow, Daniel von Bargen
The version being reviewed is unrated. For the record, the theatrical cut is rated R for Strong Violence and Gore, and for Language and Sexuality
I suppose that there is a dark side to everything. Movies that cause us joy were a nightmare to make. Artists that we love are the biggest jerks in real life. Religion gives us hope and peace but at the same time gives birth to violent zealots who think they can dictate the life and death of innocent people. In Clive Barker’s “Lord of Illusions,” magic has the same duality. Illusion provides entertainment, but real magic is a nightmare to behold. It’s an intriguing concept to be sure, but an underwritten screenplay and a miscast lead turns it into a gory mess.
“Lord of Illusions” is based on a short story that Barker wrote and features his famous character Harry D’Amour, played here by Scott Bakula. These stories are a mix of horror and film-noir, which was a point of contention for the studio, who wanted a straight horror movie. It’s a solid idea, but even after seeing Barker’s true vision, the film’s story doesn’t make any sense.
Harry D’Amour (Bakula) is fresh off solving an exorcism case when he’s called on to track down a slimy rat for insurance fraud. There, he finds a man who has been savagely tortured and murdered. This puts him into contact with Dorothea Swann (Janssen), the wife of famed illusionist, Philip Swann (O’Connor). The murder has put Philip on edge regarding a cult he was once a part of. He thinks that some of the other members are trying to resurrect their leader, a nasty individual by the name of Nix (von Bargen). Now it’s up to Harry to stop them.
It’s not Shakespeare, but it could make a nice genre flick. Unfortunately the screenplay is a mess. Nothing makes much sense, primarily because Barker never establishes a set of rules about what can and can’t happen. As a result, the film never achieves credibility or coherence. Another run through the word processor could only have helped things.
Scott Bakula is never credible as Harry. The role of a hard-drinkin’, cynical private eye is an old one, played most famously by Humphrey Bogart during the Golden Age of Hollywood. But Bakula lacks the presence and the cynicism to pull it off. He looks more like a doctor or a suburbanite than a private dick. Likewise, Kevin J. O’Connor is also miscast as the magician. He’s too quirky and wimpy. Famke Janssen is her usual reliable self as the sort of femme fatale. And Daniel von Bargen manages to chill as Nix.
What else can I say about this movie? It’s certainly not bad; it has some decent shocks and suspense and contains a considerable amount of blood and gore (in addition to the studio, the MPAA also demanded trims in order to secure an R rating). But it could also have been a lot better.