That's the phrase that would best sum up Roman Polanski's latest film, "The Ninth Gate", which drags you on a long-winded journey of unanswered questions, only to drop-kick you in the final moments with an idiotic ending. But then again, this uneven mix of film noir and horror is about what you would expect from the veteran director. Polanski may have made his mark in the Sixties and Seventies with "Rosemary's Baby" and "Chinatown", but his filmography of late has been stacked with a number of B-movie offerings such as the laughable "Bitter Moon" from 1992 and the horribly miscast and misdirected "Pirates" from 1986. "The Ninth Gate" is yet another B-movie offering that offers its audience little more than the opportunity to have an afternoon nap.
Johnny Depp ("Sleepy Hollow") plays Dean Corso, a dealer in rare books who is not beyond misrepresenting the facts to buy a valuable book at less than face value. He is summoned by Boris Balkan (Frank Langella, heard recently in "Small Soldiers"), a wealthy client who with a sizable collection of books about the Devil, to examine the latest addition to his library, "The Ninth Gate". Sold to Balkan only a day before its previous owner hung himself, "The Ninth Gate" is supposedly a book written by the Devil himself in 1666, and reading from its pages will summon its author. However, Balkan's book is one of three copies in existence, and so he finances Corso on a trip to Europe to compare his copy to the other two.
Unfortunately, the deeper Corso gets into his investigation, the more dangerous it becomes. Pretty soon, bodies start piling up and Corso finds that he is being followed. One person on his tail is the widow of the book's previous owner (Lena Olin of "Mystery Men"), who will stop at nothing to get the book back. And the other is a mysterious 'guardian angel' (the director's wife Emmanuelle Seigner), who has a knack for showing up at the right moment to help Corso on his quest.
Film noir purists may find some interest in how Polanski has integrated a number of the attributes of the genre into "The Ninth Gate", including the morally-corrupted detective-like protagonist, the amoral femme fatale, the ever-present atmosphere of paranoia, and the lack of a happy ending. However, beyond the noirish elements, there really isn't a lot to hold one's interest.
The tediously told story proceeds at a listless pace, as one tired scene bleeds into the next. And when "The Ninth Gate" isn't putting you to sleep, then it will have you rolling your eyes in despair as Polanski injects his odd sense of style, bordering on camp, into the film. How else can one explain some of the ridiculous scenes the audience has to put up with-- Corso's 'guardian angel' using martial arts to save his butt from the bad guys, a strange visit to a bookshop run by a pair of twins (both played by Jose Lopez Rodero), a satanic ceremony right out of "Eyes Wide Shut", a character gleefully setting themselves on fire to prove a point, and what no Polanski film should be without, Seigner taking off her clothes before the film ends.
The only saving grace of "The Ninth Gate" lies in Depp's performance. As the story's hero, he does a reasonably good job of portraying a man determined to solve the mystery placed before him. Like the constable he played in "Sleepy Hollow", Corso is a character who is at the top of his trade yet still finds his abilities put to the test. Compared to Depp, the rest of the cast is pure amateur hour. The over-the-top performances of Langella and Olin are sadly appropriate for the hackneyed villains that they portray, while Seigner's lack of aptitude in the thespian arts is painfully apparent (but then again, it is doubtful that Polanski casts her in his movies based on her ability to act).
In contrast to the latter-half of 1999, the year 2000 has started off poorly with more than its fair share of bad movies. Other than "Boiler Room", there has been little released thus far to justify a trip down to the local multiplex. "The Ninth Gate" is not exception. More silly than scary, and more murky than mysterious, Polanski's latest contribution to the horror genre will most likely disappear out of theatres quickly, following in the footsteps of some other recent horror duds, such as "End of Days", "House on Haunted Hill", and "The Haunting".