September 10, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

Blood, doves, candles, rain, nine-inch nails: Cross a derivative, pretentious rock video with a half-cocked, quote-unquote religious melodrama tricked out with Madonna (Louise Ciccone)-influenced iconography and you’ve still got to throw in ecumenical wooden acting before you can reach the shallow depths of Stigmata.

This crude, silly supernatural thriller — the inanely (and offensively) simplistic message of which is Catholicism is kind of cool, but the corporate Catholic church isn’t — is all about what happens to Frankie (anesthetized Patricia Arquette), a smoking, drinking, shagging Pittsburgh hairdresser, after she comes into possession of rosary beads that once belonged to a revered priest in Brazil.

What happens is Frankie begins to display marks — stigmata — resembling the wounds ascribed to Jesus on the cross. This is all the more confounding to the young woman because (1) she’s not exactly a deep thinker and (2) she’s a self-described nonbeliever. Still, Father Andrew Kiernan (somnolent Gabriel Byrne), a pensive, science-minded hunk of the cloth, is impressed enough with Frankie’s prodigious displays of bleeding and her unnerving propensity to speak and write in Aramaic to believe that this languorous downtown chick with the peacock-blue eyelids may be the holy goods. And she, as a dim slacker, gets to ask theological questions on behalf of a lay audience while the priest gets to answer them in a manner indicating that the production employed religious advisers.

Meantime, back in the Vatican, Cardinal Houseman (glaring Jonathan Pryce) is going to great lengths to divert Father Andrew from his investigation. And since the fox-sleek Cardinal looks like an El Greco painting of a church official up to no good while broodingly handsome Father Andrew looks like a man who reads Gerard Manley Hopkins before bed, it’s a good bet the scientist priest is on the right trail.

As written by Tom Lazarus and Rick Ramage and directed by music-video maker Rupert Wainwright, ”Stigmata” believes in many things: cathedral-like home decor as a substitute for faith, a hyperventilating score as an approximation of inner turmoil, operatic bedside rites as an homage to ”The Exorcist.”

Most devilishly, the movie treats clergymen as two-dimensional figures onto which the audience is invited to project a distrust, if not disdain, that’s the mark, if not the stigmata, of filmmakers wandering pointlessly in the spiritual wilderness.

Tom Lazarus,
Rupert Wainwright
Gabriel Byrne,
Various Artists
Complete Coverage

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