Tuesday, November 26, 2013

LORD OF ILLUSIONS (1995)


Clive Barker: hilarious name for a pet dog (I don't have one or I'd use it), fairly rated as a writer, but probably a little underrated as a director.  Just as HELLRAISER and NIGHTBREED demonstrated an advanced understanding of cinematic techniques, Barker's last major directorial effort LORD OF ILLUSIONS also kicks right off with memorable visuals, including some weird Nazi references.  That might or might not be a swastika made of contrails, but that is definitely an eagle outside the cult's compound...


And that is the leader of the cult, which doesn't really inspire me to sign right up.  But once you see what Nix can do, you might find life at the cult compound a little more attractive.  Beyond ordinary illusions, he's able to tap into supernatural reservoirs and levitate, juggle fire, and other important miracles.  He's opposed by Swann, who apparently does not dig this unsanctioned use of magic.  Swann wins, but that's just the prologue...


Swann, being a winner, exploits his own magical abilities in a Vegas-style stage show.   Later, he ends up dead, which brings detective Harry D'Amour (Scott Bakula) into our story.  LORD OF ILLUSIONS from here on out is a battle royal of character interactions, with D'Amour the unmagical everyman caught between the revenant Nix, a motley crew of magicians and illusionists, Swann's widow, and sundry other personalities.


I had a couple of beefs with LORD OF ILLUSIONS.  For one thing, the casting seemed a little iffy.  I've liked Scott Bakula elsewhere, but I'm not sure he's right for D'Amour.  I'm also uncertain about Kevin O'Connor as a very low-key, embittered Swann.  Problem #2 is the constrained, small-film feel of this.  Not sure if it's stemming from budgetary boundaries or the on/off score or what, but a lot of LORD comes off as very TV-movie-ish, especially the first half.  Which leads to the final complaint, the uneven digital effects that pepper the early goings.  What's here is pretty much on par with LAWNMOWER MAN, which isn't really a compliment.


So, yes, there are flaws, but there are also triumphs.  I loved Daniel von Bargen as Nix, both in terms of his performance and in the character's look.  Generally, the effects and overall efforts gel during the second half of the film, so stick it out and you'll be rewarded.


Unsurprisingly for Clive Barker, there are a few squicky scenes, including a brutal haircut marathon that leads into awesome mass death.  The second half of LORD really exploits the magic conceit for all it's worth.  Good times abound, even if the stuff I liked from the short story doesn't show up (no budget for a tiger, huh?).


Pretty uneven and not that deep, but generally fun and harmless.  Its most unforgivable fault is the Bakula-ass-highlighting wardrobe.  Damn you, Barker!


RATING: 6

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