Hollywood isn't known for its satanic subtlety. Angel Heart's Prince Of Darkness hid behind the very cunning alias Louis Cypher; while the Infernal Lord in The Witches Of Eastwick went by the dubious name of Daryl Van Horne. So it's hardly surprising that Devil's Advocate gives us John Milton (inspired by the poet who wrote the Heaven versus Hell epic, Paradise Lost) - a silver-tongued lawyer who has a suspiciously hot office, a string of cultist clients, and a fondness for travelling underground on the subway. He is the Devil: it's obvious 30 minutes in, and even if it isn't, the film's title yells the fact with all the sophistication of an Al-Pacino-is-Satan T-shirt.
Like Jack Nicholson's campy Van Horne, Milton is a mysterious, lusty creation - a pantomime Devil. He stalks the film with a confident, egocentric swagger; omnipotent, untouchable, his sunken, staring eyes and toothy grin eating up the screen. Naturally, he has all the best lines too ("I'm the hand up Mona Lisa's skirt. I'm a surprise"), but they're just the icing on a charismatic, shameless and often embarrassingly entertaining performance that is as outrageous as it is unbelievable.
Keanu Reeves puts in a refreshingly plank-free turn playing second-fiddle to this evil terror, proving that he can act in an action-free role - yet, improbably, he's the only person in the 90-minute set-up not to realise that his boss is Old Nick. While Charlize Theron (2 Days In the Valley, That Thing You Do!) is both beautiful and breathtakingly sexy as his neglected wife, acting her socks off in a influential part that requires an exploration of belief and the edges of sanity.
It's a strong cast, backed up by a assortment of faintly recognisable supporting actors (Heather Matarazzo, Jeffrey Jones). But Pacino effortlessly steals the film. So much so, it's easy to forget that Devil's Advocate also has a moralistic thread to it. Look beyond the film's curious blend of lightweight occult and courtroom drama, and what remains is a cautionary tale that has echoes of Wall Street, a warning against the temptations of power and greed. Pacino's Devil dishes up these excesses to Kevin Lomax on a plate - a big house on Fifth Avenue, a fat pay deal, a high-profile murder case. But never does he push the young lawyer to accept them. They are a temptation. As John Milton sneeringly points out, "I only set the stage. You pull your own strings."
Devil's Advocate is still, despite the tediously long running-time, irritatingly intriguing. It loses its way at times (a murder case involving Craig T Nelson, the lengthy Pacino-is-Satan hint-dropping) and therefore lacks the intensity and pace that 30 snipped-out minutes would have given it. Nevertheless, the pleasure is not so much finding out that Pacino is the Devil, but waiting to see what happens when Keanu realises it. Admittedly, it's a long night out, but the cataclysmic, CGI-boosted denouement is almost worth the ride.
Diverting supernatural hokum, elevated from the tolerable by a cracking, show-stealing performance by Al Pacino. It's mostly enjoyable, sporadically entertaining, but it might stretch your patience as it's nearly two-and-a-half hours long.