Rise of various cults based around alternatives to established lifestyle was one of the most interesting cultural trends in past few decades, especially in USA where such trends tend to manifest themselves in most spectacular or most virulent forms. Interestingly enough, Hollywood film makers weren't particularly enthusiastic about paying attention to those cults, especially not in satirical way. The reason for that, cynics would say, is the close to the reason why Republicans are never Good Guys in Hollywood movies - too many Hollywood celebrities and power-brokers are either involved or sympathetic to various cults. Santa Fe, 1997 comedy directed by Andrew Shea, represents one of those rare (and relatively unknown) attempts of satirical display of modern-day cult phenomena.
Protagonist of the film is Paul Thomas (played by Gary Cole), former policeman who barely survived the mass suicide at the cult compound in Wyoming. He returns to his home town of Santa Fe in order to get his life back in order. There, to his utmost horror, he finds his ex-wife Leah (played by Sheilla Kelly) being drawn to local cults that are thriving in the neighbourhood. After getting his old police job back, Paul puts personal ad and the only respondent turns out to be the very person he had considered the most dangerous - Eleanor Braddock (played by Lolita Davidovich), leader of local self- help cult who also happens to be very attractive woman.
Santa Fe doesn't live to its satirical potential, because Andrew Shea and his co-writer Mark Medoff couldn't find right balance between rather serious subject and humour. The result is a film that falls in the limbo between drama and comedy - with too many coincidences and grotesque plot developments to be taken seriously and with too little humour to be particularly funny. The subplot involving local elections doesn't help the film, either. Gary Cole is also not very convincing in his portrayal of rather complex and deeply traumatised character. However, Santa Fe is, to some degree, rescued by charm and great talent of Lolita Davidovich, but her efforts aren't enough to erase the unpleasant impression of this film as a wasted opportunity.
RATING: 4/10 (+)
(Note: The text in its original form was posted in Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.films.reviews on September 16th 2003)
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