The Faustian premise of Playing God (a man who has taken the Hippocratic oath can only practise medicine by working for a ruthless killer) has much dramatic potential. However, this good idea is so ineptly executed that it's no surprise Stateside critics mauled this thriller almost as much as they did The Avengers.
For starters, Mark Haskell Smith's screenplay is disastrously threadbare. After swift evidence of Sands' inventive surgical skills following a bar-room shooting, we're introduced to the array of crims and low-lifes who populate the movie. Alongside Hutton's bleached- blond kingpin and Jolie's sultry moll (an FBI agent in disguise, naturally), there are miscellaneous Chinese and Russian heavies (Fargo's Peter Stormare is one of the latter) and even a Cockney sidekick called Cyril. But describing these as characters in the traditional sense is far too generous, given how perfunctorily they've been sketched out.
Fast-paced chases, shoot-outs and a life-saving op offer some compensation, but they don't provide much in the way of nerve-jangling suspense. Ludicrous dialogue and overwrought narration make things even worse. Just in case we'd missed the point of the story, David Duchovny solemnly informs us that: "'If you're in the business of saving lives, start with your own'."
British director Andy Wilson, who has several episodes of Cracker under his belt, shoots Playing God as if it were a funky '70s TV series. His treatment of the central theme (duality) is rendered even more ineffective by Timothy Hutton's lame bad guy, who represents a less-than-credible embodiment of evil. As for Duchovny, X-Files fans will be disappointed to learn that he lacks the necessary emotional intensity for his role, contributing a bland and inexpressive performance, even during his cold turkey scenes.
This preposterous thriller's multiple faults include wafer-thin plotting, cartoonish characterisations and risible dialogue. It's a puzzling career move for X-Files star Duchovny and a disappointing US debut for British director Wilson.