Femme Fatale

on November 06, 2002 by Mark Keizer
   Director Brian DePalma's status in France as a demigod will be sorely tested with "Femme Fatale," a 112-minute encapsulation of all that is good and bad about this talented but erratic filmmaker. Top-billed Rebecca Romijn-Stamos looks the parts and gyrates nicely, but doesn't register as a classic femme fatale. The 61-year-old director continues to tread water since 1990's "Bonfire of the Vanities," and considering his last two films were "Mission to Mars" and "Snake Eyes," "Mission Impossible" is looking better and better on DePalma's résumé.

   To the joy of the press corp here in Cannes, the film kicks off during a black tie premiere at the Palais des Festivals where statuesque Laura Ash (Romijn-Stamos) poses as a photographer and lures the beautiful Veronica (Rie Rasmussen) into the ladies room for some lesbian liplock. While Laura butters Veronica's popcorn, her accomplice swaps Veronica's serpent-shaped, jewel encrusted top with a replica. But the heist goes south, forcing Laura to disappear. On a plane to America she meets Watts (Peter Coyote), a rich businessman who becomes Laura's husband, thereby providing her with the new life she needs to evade her pursuers. Unfortunately, Watts is named U.S. Ambassador to France, forcing Laura's return to Paris. While there, she has her picture taken by a paparazzo (Antonio Banderas) and the photo puts the bad guys back on Laura's tail.

   DePalma loads up "Femme Fatale" with the visual tricks and story turns he favors, although none of it is in the service of characters we care about or a story we understand, while a late-inning twist only serves to infuriate the audience. The film is dialogue-light in the first half, creating a laborious pace that a snappier second half can't save. The pity is that DePalma is still a first-rate stylist. Here he teams with Luc Besson favorite Thierry Arbogast, whose beautiful camerawork is a good match for DePalma. Ryuichi Sakamoto's score is terrific, highlighted by the fabulous use of Ravel's Bolero for the opening jewel heist. Now if DePalma were only better at picking material... Starring Antonio Banderas, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos and Peter Coyote. Directed and written by Brian DePalma. Produced by Tarak Ben Ammar and Marina Gefter. A Warner Bros release. Thriller. Not yet rated. Running time: 112 min

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