Playing God (review)

Not Just a Pretty Face

I’ve got a lot more respect for David Duchovny as an actor after seeing Playing God. Not that I hadn’t any before.

Duchovny is Dr. Eugene Sands, who lost his medical license because of a drug addiction. One night, meeting his dealer at a nightclub, he’s caught in the middle of a gunfight and sees a man shot right next to him. No one wants to call 911 — everyone in the club seems to be up to no good — so Eugene performs some quick and dirty surgery right on the bar that saves the man’s life. Duchovny is as convincing as those docs on ER as he calmly enlists a crew from the clubbers, orders them to improvise the equipment he needs, and slices into the man’s side with a sterilized knife.
Duchovny’s ability to make you buy the almost unbelievable will serve him well throughout Playing God. Because the barroom surgery catches the eye of Raymond Blossom (Timothy Hutton), an organized crime boss with henchmen who read Fortune magazine, and Ray recruits Eugene as his pet doctor. (It’s handy to have someone around to fix up gunshot wounds — emergency rooms are so inconvenient, and they ask a lot of nosy questions in hospitals.)

Get past Duchovny’s good looks, and you see that he’s a terribly interesting actor. On the surface, his Eugene seems too together to have succumbed 1) to drugs and then 2) to crime. But Duchovny uses this apparent strength as Eugene’s weakness — it’s his hubris and overconfidence that leads to his downfall. Unlike Eugene, Duchovny actually is smart and assured — he gives Eugene a complicated emotional palette: bewilderment combined with a hunger for excitement and finally resignation to his chosen path as he confronts increasingly bizarre and farfetched situations, including an episode with two dumb hired guns who want him to resurrect a dead colleague and another emergency barroom surgery, this time on a pool table. There’s also plenty of the sly, dry wit we’ve come to expect from Duchovny on The X-Files, a winking irony that lets you know he knows how silly this all is, but come along for the ride anyway.

In an odd way, Eugene reminded me of the character Duchovny played on Twin Peaks (yes, he was on Twin Peaks). As Dennis/Denise, the transvestite FBI agent, Duchovny treated with respect a character than could have been played strictly for laughs and gave him/her some pathos that made you see past the shtick. I think he’s done that with Agent Mulder as well.

And, oh yeah, as Playing God demonstrates nicely, he looks great in a pair of Levis, too.

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