The Devil's Advocate
directed by Taylor Hackford
(Warner Brothers, 1997)

Al Pacino is at it once again, making offers you can't refuse. No, it's not Godfather IV. This time Pacino is heading up a far more ancient, far less reputable organization.

The Devil's Advocate is half L.A. Law, half Rosemary's Baby's, an unlikely combination that works exceptionally well most of the time.

It begins in an unlikely place, Gainesville, Fla., where young attorney Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves) has assembled an unlikely string of victories against overwhelming odds. No matter how obviously guilty his clients are, he finds some way to get them off. This rare talent comes to the attention of John Milton (Pacino), head of a large, influential New York law firm, who brings Lomax and his wife, Mary Ann (Charlize Theron), to the big city and lays every known temptation at their feet, not to mention other body parts.

Lomax is able to resist most of the temptations, except the chance to become the city's top criminal lawyer. But what he doesn't see becomes painfully clear to his wife, especially when the other firm wives begin to undergo some unusual body transformations.

The Devil's Advocate is a rare piece of work: a social satire that can be deadly serious and hysterically funny at the same time. It's also a talky film, but the conversation is so well drawn that it never slows down the pace.

Witness Milton's own description of how he plans to subvert creation: "You sharpen the human appetite to the point where it can split atoms with its desire, you build egos the size of cathedrals, fiber-optically connect the world to every eager impulse, grease even the dullest dreams into dollar-green, gold-plated fantasies, until every human being becomes an aspiring emperor, and where can you go from there?"

Where indeed.

The Devil's Advocate is most successful in its early and middle scenes, during which it asks the questions "Is Satan loose to the world?" and "Is he leading up a major New York law firm?" It's there that director Taylor Hackford is at his best, imbuing Advocate with a leering sensuality that draws in viewers as much as Milton does the Lomaxes.

In the later scenes, with the most interesting questions answered, there's less to draw viewers in, and Hackford resorts to an interesting array of special effects and a bombastic score that say as much about the talents of the filmmakers as they do about the crux of Lomax's dilemma.

But to be fair, Hackford does save a wonderful little twist for the end. And even at its worst, which is none too shabby, The Devil's Advocate gives you a chance to see Al Pacino -- slicked back hair, burning brown eyes and skull-like teeth -- turn himself loose on Lucifer and the legal profession.

Now there's an offer you can't refuse.

[ by Miles O'Dometer ]

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