“SHORTCUT TO HAPPINESS”— Jabez and the Devil


Jabez and the Devil

Amos Lassen

Films about the devil are always popular as we have seen again and again. Set in New York’s literary world, “Shortcut To Happiness” is a contemporary re-telling of the classic story ”The Devil and Daniel Webster” featuring an all-star cast. Jabez Stone (Alec Baldwin) is a down on his luck writer, who sells his soul to the devil (Jessica Love-Hewitt) in exchange for fame and fortune. But when things don’t turn out as planned, Stone ultimately decides that he wants his old life again and enlists the help of Daniel Webster (Anthony Hopkins) in order to win his soul back from Satan. What is an interesting plot line disintegrates into one of the strangest films I have ever seen— a train wreck we can’t stop watching. 

In the late ’80s and early ’90s, Baldwin seemed destined for a spot high atop the A-list but something curious happened en route to greatness: He messed everything up. Baldwin’s scuffles with paparazzi, explosive temper, and tumultuous marriage to/divorce from Kim Basinger (and subsequent vicious custody battle) got more press than his films and he developed a reputation for being hard to work with. He alternated between thankless supporting roles in lousy films  and bigger roles in films that either went directly to DVD or barely saw release. Then we have Baldwin’s ill-fated 2001 directorial debut, “Shortcut To Happiness” that  showed the most talented Baldwin’s genius for snatching defeat. On paper, the film looks fantastic. It’s based on beloved, time-tested source material—Stephen Vincent Benét’s classic 1937 short story “The Devil And Daniel Webster,” which in 1941 inspired a minor classic starring Walter Huston as the devil. It boasts a screenplay co-written by Oscar-winner Bill Condon and National Book Award winning novelist/screenwriter Pete Dexter (Paris Trout). It also sports a stunning cast: Baldwin, his Edge co-star Anthony Hopkins, Dan Aykroyd, Amy Poehler, Kim Cattrall, Jason Patric, and Bobby Cannavale. Oh, and Jennifer Love Hewitt as the devil.

However, the film seemed cursed from its inception. After two of its investors were busted for fraud before post-production could be completed, the film ended up in bankruptcy court, where producer Bob Yari purchased it for several million dollars in 2007 and re-edited it so heavily that Baldwin had his directorial credit replaced with the pseudonym “Harry Kirkpatrick.” When filming began in 2001, Baldwin never could have imagined that nine years later, his star-studded take on a classic would be so widely unseen.

The idea of this film is old and there’s nothing new in it, but I strongly recommend you to watch this movie. In our days we judge all things: good and bad. If story is old, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s bad and this is one that  makes us think about the meaning of life, about how to live, about true price of material and spiritual values.  Jabez couldn’t refuse an offer that would give him the success he thinks he’s always wanted and jumps at the deal, but it doesn’t quite work out the way he expects. Now he has all things: women, money, success, respect… He gets super-rich, builds a mansion, and controls the entire town.

However, he says that he has NEVER been happy during 10 years at the same time having all he asked for. All he has is nothing, it is a dust. But he has success. Women love not him. His books sell well not because of his talent, but because of his success. He is respectable person, but because of his success.  He realizes his mistake too late and there’s no one who can help him. He has exchanged fellowship for imaginary success, his books are terrible and he is not satisfied of his life at all.