To watch Suing the Devil is to witness the birth of a cult classic. Mark my words: You will someday see it in midnight movie houses, and people, in all likelihood dressed as their favorite characters, will wait in line to see it just for the giddy thrill of making fun of it mercilessly. Here is a movie so flimsy in premise, so poorly written, and so badly acted that it achieves a perverse level of hilarity. I cannot recall the last time I laughed so hard at a movie that was clearly not intended to be funny. The more I think about it, the more astounding it becomes that it was released, and before that shot, and before that written, and before that conceived of. If John J.B. Wilson is the diligent moviegoer he seems to be, he’s going to have his hands full at next year’s Razzie Awards.
This movie has to be seen to be believed. It tells the story of a down-and-out salesman from Australia named Luke O’Brien (Bart Bronson), who decided to go in a new direction and began studying law at a night school. He’s a born-again Christian who became despondent after a drunk driver killed his mother. Prompted by her death and by the evils plaguing the world today, he decides to sue Satan for $8 trillion. Miraculously (no pun intended), the lawsuit he files isn’t dismissed, and within no time, Satan himself (Malcolm McDowell) struts his way into the courtroom clad in a black shirt, a black sports jacket, and sunglasses, behind which are eyes that can turn yellow. He isn’t alone; with him is an entourage of lawyers, all of whom he handpicked not only for representing heartless, greedy corporations such as big oil and tobacco but also for being heartless and greedy themselves.
The trial itself is a laughable series of vignettes so plagued with loopholes and technicalities that it’s a wonder it wasn’t stopped after the first day. The judge (Roslyn Gentle) delivers every line like a flustered nanny scolding the children for not finishing their supper. Her favorite word is “overruled,” and while I’m no lawyer, I don’t think you’re allowed to use it when the defense is making what seem to be legitimate objections. She’s also an authority on screaming at people for making outbursts in her courtroom, and oh, how she loves her gavel. For the most part, she’s shot at low angles directly in front of her desk, perhaps in an effort to make her look more imposing. During one of these shots, she bangs her gavel, only for it to fall off the desk and out of the camera’s line of sight. Before we cut to a new scene, she turns and looks blankly in the direction it fell in. An outtake that was foolishly left in the final cut, or an intended moment of tension?
The trial becomes a worldwide media frenzy, and a political debate show, on which one of the commenters is Tom Sizemore, continuously weighs in on the subject. The pious O’Brien, meanwhile, repeatedly calls witnesses to the stand, mostly pastors, in an effort to prove that Satan is who he claims to be, something the defense is trying to disprove. In a pathetic effort to add drama to the story, writer/director Tim Chey has added a subplot in which it’s discovered that O’Brien’s wife, Gwen (Shannen Fields), is sick with cancer. She’s repeatedly seen coughing, a sound that’s usually accompanied by melodramatic piano music. When O’Brien confronts her and they both begin to cry, the scene had the exact opposite effect on me. I suspect it will be the same for most audiences – even the religious ones, because you see, religious people go to the movies too, and just like the nonreligious, they appreciate good performances.
With the exception of McDowell, who has had a long and relatively distinguished career, all the actors in this film give performances that wouldn’t pass muster in an amateur high school production. Topping that list Bronson. Someone needs to sit him down, hold him by the hand, and tell him as lovingly as possible that he’s not an actor and needs to consider a new line of work. The same can be said for Kenny Epps, who plays Mr. Innocent, one of the many ironically-named attorneys representing Satan; he fakes a southern accent so blatantly phony that it’s liable to outrage and offend all populations of the American south. He doesn’t even seem to be having fun with his role, which I think would have helped a great deal.
The only one who seems to be having any fun at all is McDowell, probably because, as a professional actor, he was the only one with enough sense to not take the movie seriously. That still begs a few questions, namely why he agreed to be in it and how he could possibly share credit as one of the producers. Exactly what was it about Suing the Devil that inspired him to finance it? I’m not looking at this from a religious angle; frankly, I don’t know what his religious beliefs are. But surely he must have been aware of how incompetent this project was. Only a movie like this would actually end with a plot twist – and not just any plot twist, but quite possibly the single most infuriating copouts in the history of narrative tradition. You probably think you’ve seen bad movies before. Let me assure you that, until you see this movie, you have no idea what bad is.