Tuesday, September 03, 2013

36 Saints: The End of Days in Washington Heights

According to mystical Judaic teachings, the Tzadik are thirty-six righteous men with no desire to sin, whom G*d loves so much, he spares the rest of the sinful world for solely for their sake. Technically, they are not part of the Christian tradition, but Lilith is still out to get them.  If her minions murder each of the thirty-six in the manner their name saints were martyred, it will bring about the victory of darkness over light.  However, it seems she could use a remedial theology course for her attempt to bring on a boneheaded apocalypse in Eddy Duran’s 36 Saints (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

There have been some rather disturbing murders in Washington Heights.  Father Esteban is bludgeoned to death in the subway around the same time young Jesus Ochoa is crucified in his parish church.  It quickly becomes apparent the victims are connected to an ill-fated youth group that perished in an airline accident (quick, name the twenty-some saints who were martyred in plane crashes). Ochoa and a handful of his friends survived that day, because they chose to attend an award ceremony honoring their public service instead.  A year later, Lilith is finally mopping up loose ends.

Evidently, poor Mother Theresa was just wasting her time with all that ministering to the sick rigmarole.  Merely patronizing the hipster nightclubs of Washington Heights is sufficiently saintly for the survivors of Ochoa’s youth group.  Two cops will try to protect the Holy Club Kids, but Joseph and Michael are distinctly passive investigators, spending most of the film drinking coffee as they wait for more bodies to be discovered.

In terms of narrative, 36 Saints is beyond messy.  Its third act has the sort of logical cohesion one typically sees when faded big name stars die while filming ultra low budget movies and the producers hack together the shards of a story around the scenes they managed to complete.  Particularly problematic is the manner one of Lilith’s “shocking” sleeper servants recklessly kills people in very public ways that surely would reveal their identity, yet said minion somehow maintains their cover.  Seriously, the evil lackey isn’t even using a silencer.

When it comes to theology, 36 Saints is also a train wreck.  Strictly speaking, Eve is not a saint and she certainly was not martyred by eating a poisoned you-know-what.  Perhaps screenwriters Jeffrey De Serrano and Joey Dedio had her confused with Snow White, who is not a saint either.  Or maybe they were thinking of Eva Marie Saint, who is not a saint in the sacred sense (as least not yet), or even an “Eve,” but she made vastly better movies than 36 Saints.

Regardless, considering the breadth of the Catholic world (growing by leaps and bounds in China and Africa), it seems rather puzzling each and every saint would be hidden in Washington Heights.  Talk about gentrification.  This definitely constitutes a case of putting all the world’s eggs in one basket.  At least stash a few in Inwood.  There is no way Lilith would ever go up there—it just takes forever on the A train.

For some reason, Donna McKechnie, the original Cassie in A Chorus Line, appears in 36 as the club kids’ teacher, Ms. El (a suspiciously made-up looking name, if ever there was one), lending some presence to the otherwise drab film.  It just does not seem right to call out the young cast for not bringing their empty characters to life, but that does not leave viewers much to work with.  36 probably sounds kind of cool, like the sort of religiously themed horror films Max von Sydow or J├╝rgen Prochnow used to turn up in, but it is a profound disappointment.  Not recommended for anyone, 36 Saints opens this Friday (9/6) in New York at the AMC Empire.