Original Sin, a lurid melodrama with elements ripped from standard-issue thrillers and mysteries, can't quite decide what it wants to be. One thing is plain ' it isn't original. The story is cadged from Waltzing into Darkness, a 1950s potboiler by Cornell Woolrich. I can see where the title of Woolrich's novel probably gave the MGM studio execs fits, conjuring images of myopic two-steppers tripping over furniture in a dark room. As for the title the studio's marketing team came up with, well, the best you can say is that it's better than I Was Bilked by a Mail-Order Bride.
Which is essentially what happens to Cuban coffee magnate Luis Durand (Antonio Banderas), whose joy in discovering that the American Plain Jane he's expecting to wed turns out to look like Angelina Jolie is quickly replaced by the dawning realization that ' dah-dum-DAH! ' she's not what she seems. Soon after they're married, Jolie's Julia Russell splits, in possession of Luis' heart and the contents of his bank account. He pursues her, vacillating between the desire for vengeance and reconciliation.
All of this drippy melodrama proceeds from the quaintly ridiculous notion that a man with Banderas' looks ' not to mention a fortune in coffee beans ' would need to turn to foreign mail-order classifieds to find a date. (And this in 1880s Cuba, where the legendary Latin machismo ought to preclude such a thing.) Such inconsistencies dog the film at every turn. The first thing we're told about Luis is that he's a skeptic about romance: "Love is for those who believe in it," he says. But then he places this excessively romantic ad: "You Cannot Walk Away from Love."
Later, a menacing private investigator (Thomas Jane, his cowlick 'do and waxed mustache conjuring Matthew Modine crossed with Kevin Kline), supposedly hired by Julia's sister, shows up asking questions. Then the sister herself shows up, never mentions hiring the PI, and Luis doesn't ever think it odd. Ah, love. It will blind you every time.
Director Michael Cristofer, whose less-than distinguished rÃsumÃ also contains Body Shots, that would-be Rashomon for the late-night Cinemax set, commits multiple sins of his own. He doesn't trust his audience or his material ' he's constantly providing visual and aural cues to shove us rudely into the appropriate mood. Bongos (yes, bongos) beat loudly when the tension amps, and Cristofer resorts to ridiculous stutter-cut editing when he wants to highlight "emotional" moments.
He also provides some of the least subtle symbolism in the history of bodice-rippers. In one scene, a caged canary flaps crazily, moments before it meets an untimely end. In another, a potentially malevolent character stabs his knife into a plate of eggs Benedict. The film is structured, as these things always are, as a series of shockers, none of which prove very shocking at all. Julia narrates the story in flashback from a prison cell, a setup that gives away too much too soon.
Both Banderas and Jolie are skilled actors, but they're wasting time and talent here. The former is stuck in such a state of perpetual smolder that the smoke he generates prevents him from ever exploring the nuances of his character. Jolie again sketches a detailed portrait of vulnerable/menacing sensuality, but she's developing a troublesome post-Oscar track record of appearing in films that don't measure up to her star power (see Tomb Raider). She's many years and three or four better roles away from establishing her credentials as an A-list actress. She won't get there by appearing in clunkers like this.