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More Blood With That, Sir?



Stigmata (R)
MGM Pictures

If you're Italian, you call it sangue. If you're Hungarian, it is vJr. If you're Dutch, bloed flows through your veins. Even the Klingons have `Iw, although it may be green or blue. There are a thousand ways to say it: blood. And for Rupert Wainwright, director of Stigmata, there are another thousand ways to show it: blood traveling through tubes, blood dripping in water, blood splattering on the floor, blood pulsing from wounds both flesh and arterial. Indeed, there's so much blood in the recently released Stigmata, I kept expecting a vampiric Brad Pitt to come lick up the mess.

Despite its sanguinity, however, Stigmata isn't a vampire flick but a Christian one, complete with priests and possession and, of course, stigmata. The unfortunate victim of these wounds of Christ is Frankie (Patricia Arquette), a ditzy young Pittsburgh hairstylist. When Frankie's mother sends her a crucifix from a dead Brazilian priest, bad things start happening. First she is attacked in the bath by an unseen force that pierces her wrists straight through. Then she is scourged by whips on the subway crucified between straps.

The Vatican gets a hold of the story and sends out Father Kiernan (Gabriel Byrne), a handsome priest/investigator to find out what is going on. However, when Frankie begins to write in ancient Aramaic about the doctrine of the Christ according to Thomas (you don't need a church to worship Him, you can be close to God no matter your location), the Vatican doesn't like it one bit and sends Cardinal Houseman (Jonathan Pryce) to silence the girl.

Although Stigmata has been marketed as a '90s version of The Exorcist, it isn't nearly as thrilling. Not that there aren't a few good jump-out-of-your-seat moments -- there are -- but the overwrought camera work that uses 10 different angles to show Frankie just lying in bed is more conducive to nausea than fear. Patricia Arquette does some passable acting, but her character must go from bland to tormented in 15 seconds so often that there is little room for subtlety. Gabriel Byrne doesn't have much material either, although he's cute as a button in his little clerical collar, and that's probably good enough.

Stigmata masquerades as a religious protest film cloaked in an MTV soundtrack, but the Vatican is a pretty tired target. After all, Martin Luther hammered his 95 theses (some advocating repentance of the flesh -- yuck) on the door of a Wittenburg cathedral almost five centuries ago, and even then his protest was weak as compared to the Albigensians, the Waldensians and the Bogomiles. Stigmata adds little to 10 centuries of religious dissent -- except maybe a little bit more blood.

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