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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

GONE WITH THE POPE -- Movie Review by Derek

It was 1976. Our young country was celebrating its 200th birthday, stronger than ever. The "Whip Inflation Now" craze had reached a fevered pitch. "I Will Survive" had yet to become the anthem for women everywhere. It was the year before Star Wars, and the people were still relying on primitive, low-tech films such as The Godfather and Chinatown for their blockbuster entertainment.

And in Palm Springs, California, a legend was about to meet his destiny. Duke Mitchell, lounge singer/comedian/voice actor/auteur, was working on his second film, GONE WITH THE POPE, a gritty crime drama. The film is described as his version of "The Godfather." Unfortunately, the limited budget was running out, and he could not complete his vision.

Five years later, he passed away. His film had been lost forever... Until the mid-90's. A young film editor named Bob Murawski had recovered more than a dozen reels of film and soundtrack. In between jobs, he worked on assembling the pieces Mitchell had filmed until he had a completed film to screen. In between that, he won the Oscar for his editing on The Hurt Locker. And now you know the rest of the story.

Duke Mitchell joins such honored directors as Ed Wood, Coleman Francis, Harold P. Warren, and Tommy Wiseau. The auteurs with a strong vision, a very limited budget, and a great deal of determination... who also make completely mind-boggling movies. For GONE WITH THE POPE, 24 years belatedly, will enter the collective consciousness alongside THE ROOM, "MANOS" THE HANDS OF FATE, and RED ZONE CUBA.

The movie takes place in some sort of hazy dream world where normal logic doesn't apply. It centers on Duke Mitchell's Paul, a small-time mob hitman brought out of jail to perform 7 hits in 2 cities. He is introduced as some sort of Gandhi or Jesus, beloved by all of the prisoners and giving them all long wet kisses on the cheek. In exchange for the hits, he gets three of his closest friends, disciples if you will, release from jail with him.

 When he completes his job, he is able to escape on his private yacht with his friends. While sailing from Los Angeles, he decides that they should all go to Italy to kidnap the Pope. Eventually, he figures he can hold the holy man hostage for $1 from every Catholic in the world per day.

Like THE ROOM, it's a little hard to describe the insanity without spoiling all of the surprises. If you've seen the trailer, you know there's a nude 400 pound woman in the movie. The context is equally bizarre and perhaps the "highlight" of the movie. Paul's friend wants to get laid. Paul's solution? Pick up the first woman he sees in the park. She's hot and ready. Paul and his friend strip down and wrestle with her for several minutes before running out of the room giggling. The nude 400 pound lady proceeds to break the door off of its hinges.

But perhaps you're not a chubby chaser, and this scene is not your cup of tea. Perhaps you would prefer Paul's out-of-place rants against Pope Pius' lack of action against the Holocaust. And maybe you'd like a side of his promise to kill 100 priests for all of the Jews that died in the Holocaust. And then the plot to kidnap the Pope is as childish and idiotic as the plot to kidnap Hitler in HITLER DEAD OR ALIVE. Perhaps the film takes place in the same universe as THE INVENTION OF LYING, where people's words are taken at face value.

And not unlike THE ROOM or PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, the film stumbles around like a drunk person, occasionally crashing into a plot point and unable to stop rambling about its feelings. The film seems about half an hour longer than it actually is. I started to nod off, further degrading the line between dream and reality. The plot itself sort of dies a slow death. They kidnap the Pope, chit-chat with him, rant about the Holocaust, and then let him go, like a fish back into the sea.

Nothing, however, can prepare you for the incredible, shocking ending of GONE WITH THE POPE. No one will be allowed admission for the last 10 minutes. If you die from fright, you will receive a free coffin.


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