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Film review: Playing God

During one of his breaks from his hit TV series "The X-Files," David Duchovny found time to star in "Playing God," a feature that has no science-fiction overtones whatsoever . . . well, except for some quirky characters who seem to be from another planet.

Duchovny plays a former surgeon who lost his medical license after performing a fatal operation while addled with drugs. These days, Duchovny is addled most of the time, though he justifies his daily drug dosages because he regulates them himself. He is a doctor, after all.

One fateful night, Duchovny finds himself in a bar, standing next to a man who is gunned down by assassins. Since the Hippocratic oath he took to get his medical license means more than the fact that his license has been revoked, Duchovny uses some makeshift techniques to save the guy's life.

As it turns out, the victim is in the employ of local crook Timothy Hutton, a blond beach bum who takes a shine to Duchovny. Hutton pays him $10,000 for his services, and then starts calling him up to save other thugs who have been injured by malicious mayhem.

Duchovny enjoys being a "doctor" again, and he's also enamored of Hutton's thick-lipped, icy moll (Angelina Jolie, of "Hackers"). But soon he's sucked into the madness of working for Hutton, a maniac who is mixed up in gang wars.

In terms of structure, writer Mark Haskell Smith ("Anaconda," "Excess Baggage") and first-time director Andy Wilson (British TV's "Cracker") seem to aspire to Quentin Tarantino territory — as overworked as it is these days. They feed bickering, Tarantinoesque comic dialogue to secondary low-life characters.

Worse, the story takes predictable turns, the characters are all unlikeable and the lead performances are an odd study in contrasts — Duchovny is so low-key that he often seems to be sleepwalking and Hutton is so hyperkinetic (especially in the final scenes) that he's all over the map.

Actually, Duchovny's laconic Robert Mitchum style suits his character, a tired, guilt-ridden cynic who gets in over his head and tries to find a way out — and a way to take Jolie with him.

But his talky, moody voiceover narration seems like an afterthought — in fact, much of the movie seems reworked in a fit of last-minute editing desperation — and, at times, his character seems to have stepped in from some other movie.

"Playing God" is rated R for considerable violence, mayhem, gore and profanity, along with drug abuse and partial nudity.