(R) 1/2 star There is perhaps no better indication that you are watching a lousy film than finding yourself halfway through and wishing that the protagonist would just die already and put you out of your misery. That a film like The Life of David Gale would induce this feeling seems perversely poetic justice, given that its title character, Dr. David Gale (Kevin Spacey), is indeed waiting to die. In what director Alan Parker would like us to believe is a tragic irony, University of Texas professor and anti-death penalty activist Gale finds himself on death row, convicted of raping and murdering his colleague, Constance Hallaway (Laura Linney).
Investigative journalist Bitsey Bloom (Kate Winslet), described by her wisecracking intern, Zach (Gabriel Mann), as "Mike Wallace with P.M.S.," is summoned to Texas for a series of exclusive interviews with Gale in the days before his execution. The version of his life story that Gale tells Bloom over the three days exploits every imaginable and hackneyed clichÈ - of academics (the men are alcoholics and adulterers; the women are frigid martyrs), of social activists (they"re either crazy, or Communist, or even both), of the South (insert your own clichÈ here) and of female journalists (sure they look tough, but they"ll cry at the drop of a hat). Bloom concludes the interviews believing that pro-death penalty conservatives have framed Gale for Constance"s murder. With the help of a (red herring) videotape of the crime in progress, Bloom and Zach rush to clear Gale"s name before time runs out. They are trailed by Dusty, a taciturn, opera-loving cowboy who seems to hold the key to the mystery - well, one of them, anyway. Parker tries to create suspense in all the wrong ways - piling on cheap, callous thrills and frivolous, irrelevant side plots at the expense of the film"s supposed subject: the deadly serious issue of capital punishment. As in virtually every role he plays, Spacey"s character has a secret. In this case, a secret so cynical and horrifying that when revealed, it undermines what little value the film might have, either as social message or entertainment. The half star goes to Winslet and Linney for making the best out of very bad material, which Spacey sleepwalks through. "The only way to measure the significance of our own lives is by valuing the lives of others," Gale piously tells his students. In the end, he does neither. The Life of David Gale takes a cheap view of both life and death. Unless you do, too, you would be well advised to avoid this film.