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Movie Review: Devil's Advocate -- Al Pacino vs. I Keanu Reeves? Don't laugh.

By Vladimir V. Zelevinsky
Staff Reporter

If there were an award for Best Career Choices, it should definitely go to Keanu Reeves. He shocked the whole Hollywood community by turning down a part in Speed 2, which was supposed to be a sure thing. Now with the remnants sitting squarely on the bottom of the ocean, Reeves' reason for the refusal is clear: he must have read the script. And now he acts in a religious horror morality tale against Al Pacino, whose explosive acting style is as far removed as possible from Reeves' minimalistic emoting. The most surprising thing is that it works. Devil's Advocate is a big, bombastic, overloaded movie, which tries to do too many things at once - and, strangely enough, succeeds in providing more than two hours of solid (and frequently intelligent) entertainment.

A young attorney, Kevin Lomax (Reeves), who hasn't lost a single case in his career, is hired by a prestigious New York firm. He moves into a posh west side apartment building and starts to get inside the glitzy high-class life, power machinations, and high-profile criminal cases, all of which might not be quite kosher. Meanwhile, his wife Mary Ann (Charlize Theron) just wants a baby. Hovering over it all is the mysterious and charismatic senior partner of the firm, John Milton (Al Pacino), who travels exclusively underground, likes to have a fire burning wherever he is, and wears shoes with high heels, perhaps to hide hooves?

It looks like Reeves was taking acting classes, because he manages to hold his own against his co-star. While his character still seems ill-at-ease when delivering more than one sentence at a time, Reeves' portrayal overall isn't embarrassing, and sometimes quite good. It's possible that his acting seems to be so accomplished because Pacino's performance, for two hours, consists of only six or so randomly repeated mannerisms. In the last 10 minutes, though, Pacino shows that he still is one of the greatest living actors. He completely abandons any restraints, and lets all hell break loose, resulting in a magnificent, fully-realized performance which completely grabs the attention while Milton delivers a big monologue, concerning matters human, divine, judicial, and hormonal. It's grandly entertaining (aided by some very impressive special effects), and a lot of fun to watch.

This very much stacks the deck. When the protagonist is a blank-faced everyman, and an antagonist has all the charisma, it results in an awkward imbalance - it's hard for a movie to work when most energy is spent to create an interesting villain. But Devil's Advocate is saved from this pitfall, and the rescue comes from the least expected person: a relative newcomer Charlize Theron, who at 22 has had only a couple of small movie parts before (2 Days in the Valley, That Thing You Do!) .

Here she is an eye-opener, getting a well-written supporting part, and giving what is probably the best female - scratch that - the best acting job of the year. When Devil's Advocate starts, Mary Ann is a bleached blonde with not a single thought in her head; two hours later she's completely shattered, mentally and physically broken after seeing the face of evil. The seamlessness and conviction of her performance is very impressive. Although there isn't a Best Career Choices award, there is a Best Supporting Actress award, and Theron fully deserves it.

Directed by Taylor Hackford

Starring Keanu Reeves, Al Pacino, Charlize Theron, Jeffrey Jones, Judith Ivey, Connie Neilsen, and Craig T. Nelson

Written by Andrew Neiderman (novel), Jonathan Lemkin, and Tony Gilroy.