“JINN” (Movie Review)
According to the ads, JINN is “The secret half the world has been keeping”—and they’re not the only ones. The movie opened today with no advance screenings, and in such situations one can hope for an unheralded surprise, or at least maybe a new trash classic. Unfortunately, one hilarious highlight aside, neither is the case here.
What JINN is is a film in which no small amount of money and behind-the-scenes expertise has been expended on the cinematic equivalent of fan fiction. Writer/director Ajmal Zaheer Ahmad also designed the creatures, titles and central vehicle (more on that in a moment), and his hero is Shawn (Dominic Rains), a graphic illustrator of superheroes, monsters and hot cars who has an equally hot wife. (Does this make JINN an unofficial remake of Matt Busch’s CONJURE?) Said spouse, Jasmine (Serinda Swan), is beautiful but just can’t seem to make dinner without burning it, and on a more serious note, reveals to Shawn early in the movie that she’s incapable of having children—and that it’s perfectly fine if he therefore decides to leave her for another woman.
Having established an attitude toward its one female character that’s as ancient as its mythology, JINN gets into the meat of its tale. This scenario is first established by a prologue set in a turn-of-the-20th-century India that looks remarkably like Michigan, where the rest of the film was lensed and takes place. Back then, a religious warrior named Jehangir (also played by Rains) took on an evil jinn, one of a race of beings born of fire at the same time man was created from clay and angels from light. The creature swore to kill each generation of Jehangir’s offspring, though you’d think exterminating the first would pretty much nip the bloodline in the bud, but anyway, it’s now Shawn’s turn to assume his position as a guardian of humanity.
Ahmad’s goal was apparently to introduce heretofore unexplored folklore into the screen landscape, but JINN winds up being another case of potentially intriguing material being wrapped up in the same old hokum about prophecies and chosen ones and ancient talismans and magic daggers and protective religious figures and asylum inmates with knowledge of arcane secrets. Those assisting Shawn are Father Westhoff, played by William Atherton as if he really can’t believe the lines he has to say, and Gabriel, portrayed by Ray Park. A long way from THE PHANTOM MENACE and X-MEN, Park figures in the aforementioned silly sequence in which Gabriel fights off a bunch of possessed asylum inmates, the unintentionally funniest display of martial-arts prowess since Nicolas Cage kicked Leelee Sobieski in the face in THE WICKER MAN.
Too bad Gabriel lets his guard down to telekinetically fetch Shawn’s car keys for him—but then, Shawn’s car, the “Firebreather,” is also a key figure in JINN, confirming more than one bit of dialogue speculation that it can outrun the titular creatures. Perhaps this is to be expected in a movie lensed in and around the Motor City, and evidently more effort was put into making the Firebreather an impressive piece of automotive construction than into telling a coherent story or establishing memorable characters. (We even learn, during the endless closing credits, who the owners of the first run of actual Firebreathers are.) In general, JINN is more accomplished technically than creatively; Robert Mehnert’s cinematography, Noah Sorota’s music and the visual FX supervised by Joseph H. Coleman are all proficient enough, if rather generic for this genre, and Robert Kurtzman, who previously wrought and directed a djinn in WISHMASTER, does a good job with the assorted makeup and creature FX. But the budgetary restrictions show when JINN becomes one of those films in which a spiritual conflict that threatens worldwide catastrophe is settled with the supernatural equivalent of a street fight.
Once the world is saved (SPOILER ALERT?), JINN continues to a closing scene with the tone of a paranormal sitcom, and following the first few of those multitudinous credits, offers a moment of intertheological solidarity suggesting a “faith-based” picture. If you stick around long enough after that, you’ll learn that this movie is “Part of the Exxodus Continuum” and that “The Jinn Will Return.” But I wouldn’t put too much faith in that last statement.