The story is slow and full of cardboard characters, but Anthony Hopkins's lusty performance makes this one a safe bet for a rainy day.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

"Meet Joe Black" raises a some unimportant questions: Can a meeting between Death and his intended victim hold our attention for nearly three hours? (Answer: No.) Can Brad Pitt hold the screen with Anthony Hopkins? (No.) Is it possible to endure three hours of lifestyles of the rich and famous? (Yes.)

This movie is Hollywood, the old-fashioned way. It's big and glitzy and full of melodrama, and it has the distinction of not asking us to grapple with the ills of society. Now and then, when we tire of movies about gangsters, pornographers, politicians, terrorists, and other threats to our daily pleasures, we enjoy a movie that asks nothing of us. Just sit back and enjoy watching a white-hat tycoon managing his private drama in the boardroom, the Manhattan triplex, the country palace. The problem is that, without Anthony Hopkins, this would be a lousy movie. With him, it is still a lousy movie, but it has the charm of an actor's romp.

Mr. Hopkins, for all his serious acting triumphs, seems to love elevating colorful, schmaltzy American movies beyond the reach of their creators. "The Edge", an underappreciated adventure/thriller, worked beautifully because of Mr. Hopkins's creation of a clever thinker meeting a wilderness challenge. The truth of Mr. Hopkins is that, if you glance away for a second when he's on the screen, you miss his next surprise. He can make boring lines jump and can even breathe life into his nearly comatose peers.

In "Meet Joe Black", he becomes Bill Parrish, corporate media exec with a spine of steel and a value system rooted in fair play. That's a novelty. Bill loves his daughters Susan (Claire Forlani) and Allison (Marcia Gay Harden), and he is wary of his business protege, Drew (Jake Weber).

Death, who is hovering around Bill, decides he wants to live a slice of the good man's big life, so he appropriates the body of a nice young man and arrives in Bill's world as Joe Black (Brad Pitt), new advisor to the boss. Death hasn't seen many men who reject a corporate merger because the other guy isn't enough of an idealist. Intrigued, Joe Black decides to hang around a bit before taking the saintly exec.

As Joe, Brad Pitt is a wooden presence under a carefully tended mop of yellow hair that springs from a field of black roots. As an otherworldly innocent, Joe will experience two worldly obsessions: peanut butter and sex. Managing to sustain her sophisticated composure during the film's ridiculous silences, Claire Forlani does a fine job as beloved daughter of Bill and seductress of Joe.

The story is slow and full of cardboard characters, but Anthony Hopkins's lusty performance makes this one a safe bet for a rainy day. It's a fable with an appealing moral: that a good and decent human being has little to fear from death. We haven't heard that one in a long time.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 496
Studio : Universal Pictures
Rating : PG-13
Running time : 2h50m

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