Title: Suing the Devil
Director: Timothy Chey
Starring: Malcolm McDowell, Bart Bronson, Shannen Fields, Rebecca St. James, Tom Sizemore, Corbin Bersen, Ros Gentle
Pablum would be a step up for “Suing the Devil,” an inane, moralizing Australian production from writer-director Timothy Chey that centers around a lawsuit against Satan. Aiming for some theoretical sweet spot between comedy, courtroom drama and Up-with-Jesus! sermonizing, this poorly sketched and dreadfully acted movie can’t even be saved via an attempted personality transfusion from a ranting, raving Malcolm McDowell, in the title role.
Still wrapped up in grief over losing his mother to a drunk driver, a down-and-out Sydney law school student, Luke O’Brien (Bart Bronson), decides to file a suit against Satan for $8 trillion. He seeks a default judgment, but the devil (McDowell) actually shows up to answer the charges, so the judge lets the matter proceed. With but one inexperienced co-counsel, Tony makes a stand against a 10-member legal dream team of high-powered attorneys. Artlessly intercut with all of these shenanigans is footage from a “Justice TV” panel show, “You Decide the Verdict,” in which host Barry Polk (Corbin Bersen) debates the ups and downs of the trial with two commentators (Tom Sizemore and Christian pop singer-songwriter Rebecca St. James).
Burdened by a laborious set-up of Satan’s all-star gang of trial lawyers, and even more harebrained and awkwardly earnest voiceover narration throughout, “Suing the Devil” takes what could be an intriguing and funny concept and just runs it into the ground, in ham-fisted fashion. There are a couple funny bits (walking into the courthouse Satan fells an enthusiastic “fan” who mentions he’s also a fan of Kiss, explaining that he hates the band and instead prefers Tom Jones), but these moments are definitely scarce and far between. The acting is also problematic, to say the least. A game McDowell tries his best to inject some wicked fun into the movie, but O’Brien is simply terrible. His over-the-top emoting and other subpar performances make passages of “Suing the Devil” feel like a middle school dinner theater production.
The script’s structure is a mess, too. The actual trial doesn’t much conform to any legal proceedings with which I’m familiar; the defense presents part of its case first, and various witnesses, including O’Brien and Satan himself, alternate time in the witness box, for whatever is deemed convenient and necessary to move the plot forward. Even within the framework of its ridiculous conceit — in which the admissibility of the Bible as evidence is waved off by Satan as a magnanimous gesture — “Suing the Devil” can’t much summon a smart and lively theological debate, having O’Brien stupidly (and broadly) argue that “the love of money is the root of all evil.”
Scripture is trotted out on both sides, naturally, but Chey’s stooping efforts to try to shoehorn in comedy (wherein Satan claims responsibility for leaf blowers and automated customer service, and constantly derides everyone as losers and nitwits) is about 10 percent as clever as he thinks it is. “Trial of the century,” huh? Only in movie hell.
Written by: Brent Simon