Meet Joe Black (1998) / Fantasy-Romance
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for some sexuality and language
Running Time: 178 min.
Cast: Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins, Claire Forlani, Jake Weber, Marcia Gay Harden
Director: Martin Brest
Screenplay: Ron Osborn, Jeff Reno, Kevin Wade, Bo Goldman (inspired by the play and film, Death Takes a Holiday)
Anthony Hopkins (The Mask of Zorro, The Edge) plays Bill Parrish, a multimillionaire media man and father of two loving daughters. He has it all, but it's all about to come to an end, because it's time for him to die, as evidenced by the appearance of Death in the form of a young man (Brad Pitt, Twelve Monkeys).
Death is bored with his job and wants to have a taste of what it's like to be alive. He makes a deal with Bill to keep him alive until he's done discovering what life's about. Adopting the name Joe Black, he becomes Bill's right-hand man -- sleeping in his house, going to his board meetings -- much to the bewilderment of his family and employees, none of which have a clue who he is and why he's hanging around Bill.
With his 65th birthday coming up, and his business about to be taken over, Bill has only a little time to leave this world with dignity. Big problems occur when Joe falls in love with Bill's favorite daughter (Forlani, Mallrats), who is also the girlfriend of the man trying to worm his way to millions in the takeover bid.
Meet Joe Black is a beautiful film for the eyes and ears, with a gorgeous score by Thomas Newman (The Horse Whisperer, The Shawshank Redemption). Nevertheless, it is still a bit of a disappointment, as the major flaws of the film cripple any chance of taking off to the heights it aspires to. The film has a few poignant and clever things to say thematically, but unfortunately, it takes more than its fair share of time saying them, needlessly running almost three hours long.
Director Martin Brest (Going in Style, Beverly Hills Cop) both makes the film work, while also hurting any chances of its success. He does a fine job casting every role with credible actors -- save the role of Death. Brad Pitt has done fine work in the past, and can be very good, but he's clearly wrong for the role, mostly appearing as a walking Ken doll, delivering lines meant for an actor with more charisma than he can muster.
The script is credited to four people and it shows, with scenes alternately hitting and missing seemingly with every other line. There are just a few too many visions competing for screen time and director Brest tries to deal with them all, making the film overlong and uneven in the process.
Perhaps if they had a Cary Grant type for the title role, and also stripped out the business dealings to concentrate more on the romance and father-daughter relationships, this could have been a great film. As it stands now, Meet Joe Black is passable entertainment with lots to think about, and delivers a few moments of greatness amid awkward scenes aplenty.
©2000 Vince Leo