On the eve of “Bill and Ted Face The Music,” I’m feeling nostalgic. So much so, I started looking up old Keanu Reeves movies on Netflix, and lo and behold “The Devil’s Advocate” popped out from 1997. I was intrigued.
Meet Kevin Lomax (Keanu, no relation to Bernie from “Weekend at Bernies”), a small-time lawyer from swampy Florida defending scumbags and winning. His latest case is defending a pedophile, which causes a pang of conscience after demolishing a teenage victim on the witness stand, but otherwise doesn’t stand in his way of winning the case for his scumbag client. His tactics earn him a well-paid consulting gig at a top New York law firm looking to stack a jury in favor of the scumbag they’re trying to defend. It’s a bucket of money, everyone agrees that Florida sucks, so Lomax and his wife Mary Ann (Charlize Theron) are off.
Before bailing, Keanu swings by his mom’s church to say so long. Turns out his mom is a religious nut, he can quote the bible as good as she can, and now they’re off to the Big Apple (which is full of demons, mom warns).
His first task is to stack a jury, which is no sweat for this guy. He seems to intuitively know which jurors will be great for the defense, and he doesn’t need any of the extreme hassle that Gene Hackman had to go through in 2003’s “Runaway Juror” either. He just sort of looks at them and knows, which is much more cost effective as it turns out. In the end, the scumbag defendant (a banker maybe?) ends up free, so again our guy wins.
Afterwards, the law firm sponsoring his New York trip – Milton, Chadwick and Waters – invites him to stay longer and meet the enigmatic head of the firm, John Milton (Al Pacino). For the few folks who were still wondering why this was called “The Devil’s Advocate,” by now it becomes pretty clear: Pacino is the devil. Apparently he’s taking some time off from being summoned by the world’s tweens via Ouija boards to run a major Manhattan law firm. Can’t really blame him.
Anyhoo, Kevin (Keanu) hasn’t figured this out yet, so Milton gives him a tour of his bizarre office space, gives him a palatial apartment to live in, and offers him a job running the firm’s new criminal defense department. So go back to alligator infested Florida defending pedos, or stay in a Central Park palace getting paid bajillions of dollars? After a few milliseconds he agrees.
First up is a voodoo guy named Moyez (Delroy Lindo, who you may remember as the great bad guy from “Get Shorty”) accused of animal cruelty or something. He’s creepy, a good pal of Milton (Pacino), and of course Kevin wins the case citing his client’s religious freedom as a voodoo guy, along with some help from his client who makes the prosecutor cough.
Meanwhile, Mary Ann (Theron) is settling into her new life as a one-percenter at the top of the Manhattan food chain. She’s decorating their palace and hobnobbing with the neighbors, but feeling increasingly isolated and lonely.
After the big win in the voodoo thing, Kevin and wife are invited to a party with the rest of the town’s elite at Eddie Barzoon’s (Jeffrey Jones) palace upstairs. Here Keanu rubs elbows, while hound dog Milton (Pacino) gets to know his wife much, much better.
The party’s going swimmingly until it’s revealed that one of their scumbag business clients named Alex Cullen (played by coach Craig T. Nelson) is arrested for murdering his wife, stepson, and maid. Milton puts Kevin on the case, much to everyone’s chagrin, including coach himself.
Meanwhile, Kev’s wife Mary Ann gets to second base with Eddie’s wife while they try on expensive clothes, before she (Eddie’s wife) turns into a demon before her eyes. Mary Ann freaks out, and, back home, yells at Keanu before they have sex and things settle back down for a while.
Back on the case, Kevin meets with coach to discuss the murders at his palatial 5th Avenue apartment, which was lent to the production by Donald Trump (his actual apartment in Trump Tower). Things seem pretty fishy, but Kevin looks past all that because he wants to win.
Mom arrives from Florida to visit, prompting more bible quoting and foreshadowing stuff, along with a creepy meeting with John Milton. Viewers who’ve been paying attention realize there’s something fishy with this whole thing: if Pacino’s the devil, and Kevin never knew who his father was, why’s mom so creeped out by meeting this dude? It’s not a complicated puzzle to put together. However we soldier on.
More revelations emerge in coach’s murder case, one night Eddie Barzoon and his gang shred a ton of documents for some reason, and Kevin and Milton go to Madison Square Garden for a boxing match, as one does. Afterwards the pair goes out for some Mexican where Milton (Pacino) orders some tableside oral sex. This has never been a menu option I’ve seen, and I love Mexican food.
Meanwhile, Mary Ann is cracking up. She’s having hallucinations and medical issues, including finding out she can’t have children, all of which her husband Kevin (Keanu) sloughs off and ignores.
Back at work, Kevin gets coach off the murder charges, despite knowing he was guilty, while his wife (Theron) gets raped by Milton (Pacino), despite having been in Kevin’s presence the whole time. But, you know, the devil’s a supernatural creature, so there’s that. This is Mary Ann’s final straw: she cracks up and gets institutionalized, and then kills herself.
Kevin’s upset, but recovers in time to confront his mom over who his dad really is (which dead people have figured out by now). She confesses. So now it’s time for Kevin to confront devil dad Milton (Pacino).
Turns out, surprise, he’s the devil, and he’s trying to create the anti-Christ by having Kevin have sex with his half-sister, who Kevin’s been checking out the entire film. Kevin resists, the devil’s defeated, and once again the Rolling Stone’s “Sympathy for the Devil” gets trotted out as perfect fade-out music over a credit crawl.
“The Devil’s Advocate” isn’t a great movie to be fair. It’s not bad, but it’s not very good. The basic premise is the shopworn tale of a guy being tempted by the devil, who has all the earthly things on his side, while still wanting to do good things because he has some inner moral compass. In most of these stories good wins, despite all the evidence we see in the world every day about how far “being good” gets you. I think this happens because storytellers, on the whole, want to show us things that are possible, as opposed to the ways things usually turn out, which are way more depressing.
In a more realistic rendering, Kevin would mourn his dead wife, father the anti-Christ, and marry a supermodel , leaving dad to deal with the whole neo-biblical prophecy side of things. As kids do.
That being said, there is Al Pacino. As the devil, Pacino is pretty amazing. I don’t think anyone else could’ve pulled off such a captivating interpretation of the fallen angel. For most of the flick he’s pretty subtle, letting his son’s natural greed and ambition run its course; he’s not pushing him to be bad, he’s just not minding when he does. He’s not tricking him, he’s not entrapping him; he’s letting his son make his own choices, until at the end, when he swoops in for the kill.
Pacino’s devil isn’t a creature of pure, old-school-Slayer-brand evil. He’s a “fallen angel,” who still has the perspective of an angel, except he seemingly couldn’t bear the hypocrisy of a god who would judge his creations after endowing them with the qualities he judges them for using. So he formed his own team to rival the big guy’s, simultaneously embracing human frailty and being disgusted by it, because, after all, he’s still an angel. It’s a complex read.
You don’t see this in most devil films, so for that alone, it’s worth a watch. As for Keanu… dude, it’s fun.