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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, November 6, 2002

Elaborate, clever 'Femme Fatale' still manages to disappoint

By Marshall Fine
The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News

FEMME FATALE (Rated R for nudity, profanity, graphic violence, sex) Two and One-Half Stars (Fair-to-Good).

This is an elaborate visual game about a thief trying to hide her identity from partners she has double-crossed — and the paparazzo who takes her picture. Fun, even if it doesn't add up to much. Starring Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Antonio Banderas. Directed by Brian De Palma. Warner Bros., 107 minutes.

As an exercise in pure visual storytelling technique, Brian De Palma's "Femme Fatale" may be the year's most gleeful cinematic outing.

There are few directors out there with the grasp of this dying art that De Palma has. With a camera in his hands, he becomes both Merlin and Scheherazade, tricking the eye even as he unfolds tales forever poised to take a left turn into the unexpected.

If only "Femme Fatale" were better written. De Palma, credited both as writer and director, has a lot of ideas but can't quite bring them off in this sexy caper film. You get the impression that De Palma was making this up as he went along, and trying to make sense of it afterward.

You may also get the idea that, at some point, this movie will reveal itself to be about something other than what you think it's about. That would be correct, though that revelation turns out to be disappointing.

The film starts with the theft of a $10 million piece of jewelry that doubles as a bikini top. The team that's stealing it does so in broad daylight, in the middle of a lavish Cannes Film Festival premiere.

But when something goes wrong and one of the thieves is shot, his partner, Laure (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), takes off with the jewels, leaving him to be caught by the police. She eventually escapes from Paris to America, where she winds up the bride of a software magnate who dreams of being a diplomat.

Seven years later, her husband is named ambassador to France. This poses a problem for Laure, now known as Lily: She knows her former partners are looking for her in Paris. So she adopts a strict policy of never allowing herself to be photographed.

Eventually, this makes her the target of a French tabloid, which simply can't live without a picture of the mystery woman. So they hire a down-on-his-luck paparazzo (Antonio Banderas) to get the elusive photograph. When it hits the newsstands, he finds himself accused of kidnapping her because she is suddenly nowhere to be found.

To its credit, "Femme Fatale" spins along at a dizzying pace. Sometimes, however, there is merely the illusion of forward motion, created by De Palma's use of split-screen images and his endless point-of-view shots.

Banderas has a wormy, slippery aggressiveness as the photographer. Romijn-Stamos, long-legged and haughty, has the attitude, if not the acting chops to pull off this role.

"Femme Fatale" is like an elaborate game, cleverly assembled and played, but leaving very little impression when it's over.

Rated R for nudity, profanity, graphic violence, sex. 107 minutes.