The Devil and Ms. D

Leading German star Til Schweiger makes a sexy little Satan in "The Devil and Ms. D," but this directorial exercise by veteran distrib-producer Bernd Eichinger otherwise gets just middling mileage from its decent fantasy concept.

With:
With: Til Schweiger, Corinna Harfouch, Thomas Heinze, Sonja Kerskes, Christine Neubauer, Stephan Kampwirth, Antoine Monot Jr., Anton Alexander, Detlev Buck, Patricia Leuger, Neza Selbus.

Leading German star Til Schweiger makes a sexy little Satan in “The Devil and Ms. D,” but this directorial exercise by veteran distrib-producer Bernd Eichinger otherwise gets just middling mileage from its decent fantasy concept. Slick diversion could use a little more hellfire — and/or a lot less of Ms. D, the earthbound protag (played by Corinna Harfouch) who gets majority screentime here. Too commercially slanted for arthouse play, while lacking the splashier imaginative fun, character chemistry and situational wit promised, fair romantic comedy looks most viable offshore as a specialty rental and TV item.

Harfouch (“Solo for Clarinet”) is Cora Dulz, a tightly wound psychotherapist who unravels all too quickly in the presence of mysterious new client Stanislaus Nagy (Schweiger). Latter claims he’s obsessed with the late opera diva Maria Callas and was her erstwhile Svengali in real life; Stan also admits to being a compulsive liar. Nonetheless, the good doc soon finds herself seeking his company outside office hours.

Clara begins exhibiting stalker-like behavior, unfazed by Stan’s eventual confession that he is, in fact, the Devil. Despondent since his greatest “triumph” — creating, then destroying human “perfection” in the great Callas — Stan, aka Satan, now wants to become an ordinary mortal. To pull that off, he requires a human’s love.

Though pretty much a facelift of “Death Takes a Holiday,” pic’s premise is offbeat enough to raise expectations. They’re frustrated, however, by Eichinger’s screenplay, which never delivers the larger set pieces or imaginative leaps anticipated.

While production is slick and fairly expansive, the Devil — a pretty mild “bad boy” — demonstrates his supernatural powers too seldom, and then in mundane, unspectacular ways.Tame as this conception is, Schweiger still manages to invest it with considerable sly, seductive appeal. His panache does Harfouch no favors, though, since she’s in every scene — and the ones without him are notably flatter. Rendering Cora more dislikeable than discombobulated, the thesp’s yuppie shrink hardly seems worth giving up immortality (even in Hell) for.

Adding to the sense of sparkless mismatch is pic’s insistence on fussy, old-school “glamour” lighting (or, to be more precise, shadowy partial lighting) each time Harfouch gets a close-up.

Best scenes are recurrent B&W “flashbacks” showing Callas (played at various fat/thin phases by different actors) on the road to fame and ill fortune.Tech aspects are smooth, though design attempts to create a dreamy, “dangerous” nocturnal mood are — like everything else here — more rotely glossy than imaginative.

Original German title translates as “The Great Bagarozy,” Stan’s pseudonym in his occasional magician gigs.

The Devil and Ms. D

Germany

Production: A Constantin Film production. Produced by Bernd Eichinger. Executive producer, Sabine Eichinger. Co-producer, Martin Moszkowicz. Directed, written by Bernd Eichinger, based on a novel by Helmut Kraussner.

Crew: Camera (color), Gernot Roll; editor, Alex Berner; music, Stefan Zacharias; production designer, Jana Karen; costume designer, Barbara Baum; sound (Dolby Digital); assistant director, Hanus Polak Jr.; casting, Rita Serra-Roll. Reviewed at Cinequest San Jose Film Festival, Feb. 24, 2001. Running time: 101 MIN.

With: With: Til Schweiger, Corinna Harfouch, Thomas Heinze, Sonja Kerskes, Christine Neubauer, Stephan Kampwirth, Antoine Monot Jr., Anton Alexander, Detlev Buck, Patricia Leuger, Neza Selbus.

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