A Film by Rupert Wainwright

Stigmata is a slick, flashy film, rich with with images of mystery and menace, stylishly frenetic and evocative. It offers solid performances, a few reasonably complex characters, and adequate special effects. And I just can’t recommend it.

The problem I have with Stigmata is that I’ve already seen it. Our protagonist is Frankie , (Patricia Arquette) a fast-living, agnostic cosmetologist who likes to drink, smoke and screw. Her career is nowhere, she’s living on the edge, her "boyfriend" is an insensitive jerk, and she may be pregnant. But it’s only when her mother sends her a crucifix stolen from a dead Brazilian priest that she begins to get into real trouble. She starts to have fits, usually under the most embarassing circumstances, in which she has visions of the dying Christ and suffers spontaneous wounds reminiscent of the Crucifixion. Clearly, something very creepy and supernatural is going on. And as we all know, creepy supernatural things must inevitably come to the attention of the Super Secret Order of Scientifically Minded, Spiritually Conflicted Handsome Catholic Priests. Enter Gabriel Byrne as Father Damian Karras. He’s a trained chemist and detective who investigates (and usually refutes) putative miracles for the church. Sort of a private dick for Christ. He must help our troubled heroine at all costs, even though he is, at first, skeptical. Before he’s convinced, we’ll see mysterious texts written in Aramaic, we’ll watch our heorine disfigured and degraded and levitated above her bed, we’ll witness our heroic priest struggling with his faith—it’s all here, folks, everything but the split-pea soup.

Oh, and we’ll listen to some seriously trite and arguably bigoted religious gobbledygook. You see, this is all about an aprocyphal text, possibly penned by Jesus himself. Such a document, it is argued, would topple the Catholic hierarchy. As we endure a scene in which one of Byrne’s fellow priests rants about Catholicism as a sort of parasitic spiritual middleman, we can’t help thinking: Dude, why don’t you just become a Protestant and shut up? I have to wonder if the movie’s implication--that any text penned by Jesus would invalidate Catholicism--will be and maybe should be offensive to the hundreds of millions of people who practice that faith.

The filmakers have bent over backwards to give Stigmata a fresh appeal. They’ve tossed in a little Vatican cloak-and-dagger, with Jonathon Pryce as a crazed priest determined to silence any hint of a gospel penned by Christ, even if it means killing a gum-chewing atheist hair stylist from New York. Pryce, as usual, turns in a fine performance, but his character seems completely unbelievable and out of place. You get the idea this guy would have derived more job satisfaction as an FBI tactical commander at Waco. Byrne, as usual, radiates a craggy, quiet strength, and Arquette is fine as our tormented beautician. But the solid cast, the stylish photography and the tacked-on conspiracy theory don’t render this turkey anything but a lame ripoff. When a possessed Arquette cornered Byrne with a knife and barked "How’s your faith, Father? " in her best Linda Blair basso, Sullydog put down his popcorn, certain that a crucifix-masturbation scenario was right around the corner. Stigmata is not horrifying but merely horrific, not original but merely stylish, not insigthful&ldots;but possibly insulting.

Oliver Stone does The Exorcist.

Sullydog does not approve.