The spirit of Tommy Wiseau is alive and well in the new, Malcolm McDowell-produced faith-centric indie “Suing The Devil." There’s no way to sugarcoat the fact that McDowell, who stars as the titular Beelzebub, has over the course of his storied career, gone from working with Stanley Kubrick and Lindsay Anderson to slumming it in a low-rent Christian film that makes “Fireproof” look like “Dr. Zhivago.”
“Suing The Devil” concerns Australian law student Luke O’Brien (Bart Bronson), a long-haired rockstar-type and devout Christian having “the worst year of [his] life.” His mother was killed by a drunk driver, his wife is nursing a mysterious Movie Cough… gas prices are too high! To O’Brien, this is a sign that the world has gone wrong, and Satan is to blame. The only logical realization is that Satan needs to be sued. Specifically for eight trillion dollars, and yes he is serious, and no, no one ever asks how he came to that specific cash amount.
After supplying court documents to major law firms, goth teens and strip club purveyors, O’Brien is prepared to be kicked out of court after having made his point, when into the picture steps Malcolm McDowell, clad in all-black, in dark shades, looking desperately like a hopelessly square old man trying to be hip. Satan smiles and laughs at everyone’s attentions, pulling off cheap parlor tricks and, in one scene, kneecapping a Kiss fan and proclaiming himself “a Tom Jones man.”
While the green O’Brien goes at the Devil in court with a fellow student (“Friends don’t ask friends to sue Satan”), McDowell’s reptilian smoothie courts a “dream team” of legal aides from around the world, with the names of Mr. Ice, Ms. Black, Mr. Think Tank, Ms. Shy, Mr. Innocent, Professor Field, Miss Scarlet and Mr. In-Yo-Face (the black one!). While most of them are not atheists, they share with the Devil a common hatred of God, and have previously litigated in cases against cancer medication, the electric car, and restrictions on tobacco and gambling. It’s never exactly explained why Satan needs eight high-powered lawyers when he’s SATAN, but McDowell’s performance, a lighter shade of Al Pacino in “The Devil’s Advocate,” is meant to suggest that he’s having a ball.
Once the trial begins, it’s clear that the filmmakers have never once set foot in an actual courtroom. McDowell’s entire legal team of terrible actors take turns mugging for the camera, screaming random objections and badgering each and every witness while drenched in flop sweat. O’Brien is equally unprofessional, consistently changing his character’s aim in the trial, resorting to name-calling and Bible-quoting, which, given the nature of this case, is completely endorsed by the judge. O’Brien also appears unclear as to whether he’s pinning his own pedestrian struggles on the Devil, or suggesting Satan is responsible for all evil in the world. It’s cruel to say it more than once, but this inconsistency further illustrates that Bart Bronson may be one of the worst actors to ever read dialogue off a printed page.
The trial is punctuated by snippets from a fictional show “You Decide The Verdict,” a legal series hosted by pundit Barry Polk (Corbin Bernsen) that helpfully narrates exactly what we just watched as if it was a sporting event with a constantly changing score. He speaks to two “experts,” one of whom is called Tony “The Hip” Anzaldo and is played by a distinctly uncomfortable-looking Tom Sizemore. Sizemore, who has made a host of dubious career decisions in recent memory, does his best to get through his lines in a speed-mumble, desperate to get them out, in what was likely a single day of shooting.
The idea of taking Satan to court is a funny one, and it opens a Pandora’s Box of possibilities. But “Suing The Devil” is startlingly simpleminded, as when O’Brien puts an oil executive onto the stand and chastises him for being a capitalist and atheist, as if good and evil had any bearing on this man’s free enterprise. The ideas behind the film are laughably primitive, and it’s startling to see an actor of McDowell’s caliber swept up in them. At the point where Satan begins taking credit for gangsta rap, it’s clear that the ignorance that powers this film is borderline dangerous. It pretends it’s a comedy when one lawyer rants like Jim Carrey in front of extras forced to laugh as if by gunpoint, and then declares itself a drama when O’Brien has to answer character assassination claims that he used a curse word once. In short, it’s embarrassing on almost every level, poorly written, shot, scored and edited and bereft of a single idea, interesting or otherwise. [F]
"Suing The Devil" is out now on VOD.