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IN SHORT: A noir nightmare. [Rated R for strong sexuality, violence and language. 120 minutes]
For the Gentlemen in the Audience, think about this for a second: Gorgeous model/actress Rebecca Romijn-Stamos clad in almost nothing, lap dancing and wiggling all of her God-given clad in almost nothing assets in your face. Even better, think about up and coming super model Rie Rasmussen barely covered in $10 million dollars of diamond doing a hot and nasty lesbian thing with the aforementioned Ms. Romijn-Stamos. That's a nice pair (heh heh) of titillating fantasies, right?
Now stretch your imaginations to the utmost limit and try to conceive how these lusty and lust-filled visual images can bore the utter crap out of you. If that's beyond your imagination, allow director Brian De Palma to show you how it's done. No, we didn't think it possible, either, but his latest production is a stupefying bore of monumental proportions with a twist ending that comes after such an insufferable two acts of set up that had all the critics around us halfway out of their chairs, thinking that this mess was over. Nope. Twice you will see the subtitle "Seven Years Later" on the screen in front of you. Femme Fatale will make you feel as if you've actually endured those fourteen years.
Film students eyebrow deep in Cahiers du Cinema dictum, at least those returning to University prepared to shoot your Masters thesis films, should plant for Femme Fatale. All that is cinematic law according to the French is present in De Palma's film. Careful and deliberate camera movements to emphasize the point that film is as much a visual medium as it is a storytelling one add absolutely nothing to the story of this film. All that is missing is the one thing Americans added to the mix -- pacing. In this particular case, "pace" and "plod" are both four letter words.
Rather than just fall back on the "I want to be Alfred Hitchcock" theme that drives most of De Palma's work, Femme Fatale kicks off with a high tech, $10 millions diamond heist straight out of Mission: Impossible (let us not forget De Palma directed the first MI). While men in black follow a carefully orchestrated timetable, press photographer Laure Ash (Romijn-Stamos) is in the bathroom getting it on with super model Veronica (Rasmussen), a drop dead gorgeous femme bedecked with those diamonds in a serpent shaped, above the waist, construction that barely covers anything vital. One hot lesbian tete a tete, or breast a butt, later the diamonds are gone, the bad guys are either shot or in custody as a result of the heist gone bad and dear sweet Laure is tromping around France in a bad wig.
Coincidentally, that bad wig makes her look exactly like a distraught femme named Lily who, we're guessing, has just lost her husband and baby in some kind of tragedy. Lily's in-laws or parents stumble upon Laure and, voila, a new identity is born. There's a wee bit more to it than that but suffice it to say that one suicide and a stolen plane ticket later, the new identity is rock solid and our dear sweet Lily is sleeping contentedly on the shoulder of the man who, seven years down the line, will be the US Ambassador to France (Peter Coyote).
Seven Years Later reads the subtitle. Nicolas Bardo (Antonio Banderas) photographic artiste and part time paparazzi -- it pays the bills -- is hired to get a picture of Ambassador Watts' mysterious wife. Once he does, and once that picture gets plastered all over Paris, all hell breaks loose as double-crossed bad guys come out of the woodwork seeking revenge and their hunk of the $10 millions (Eriq Ebouaney as the mysterious Black Tie mastermind of that heist). To make matters worse, Bardo finds himself prime suspect in the kidnapping of Mrs. Watts . . .
Waitasec. Kidnapping? Another ten million in ransom demands? What the hell is going on here? We're not even going to try to explain the murders and attempted suicides and double crosses yet to come. Once this section faded to black, as reported above, all the critics around us got up to leave. Then, another "Seven Years Later" subtitle hits the screen and De Palma the writer tries to make sense of all the story that De Palma the director has stripped of intrigue. Our Third Act rules forbid unraveling it all for you. One of the stories condensed above has an incredible amount of lies built into it and this final act makes everything clear in an unbelievable fashion. Our choice of the word "nightmare" in the IN SHORT line is apt and will be fully understood by anyone who makes the mistake of shelling out any kind of green to see this film.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Femme Fatale, he would have paid . . .
The only reason why Femme Fatale doesn't get a flat out zero is that, if you strip the disastrous pace away and ignore the potentially pretentious twist to the Third Act, De Palma's story makes some kind of sense. His technical work destroys all of that.
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