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FEMME FATALE , US/FRANCE , 2002 , MPAA Rating : R for strong sexuality, violence and language

There was a time when Brian De Palma was hailed as the worthy successor to Alfred Hitchcock. With DRESSED TO KILL, he seemed to have slipped a bit, from successor to Hitchcock into the role of paying tribute to him with a dead-on homage style of filmmaking. And then with BLOW OUT, well, he just sort of lost his mind. Perhaps it was a plea for an intervention of some sort, weíll never know. His latest is FEMME FATALE, and while there are still echoes of Hitch to be found (VERTIGO comes to mind, as does REAR WINDOW), de Palma seems to be branching out into Billy Wilder. That would explain the clip of DOUBLE INDEMNITY that starts the film and its star, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos later decked out in Barbara Stanwyck white.


De Palma returns here to his favorite themes of fluid identities and paranoia. Paranoia directed in particular against women. He, like Hitchcock, has a penchant for objectifying the female of the species and then finding the results more than a little ominous. The story, some needlessly overcomplicated piffle about a diamond bra, double-crosses and the complete suspension of disbelief, is told with many nifty camera angles and effective music cues. Well, they would be effective if what they were cueing were anywhere nearly as interesting as the notes being struck.


Now, as for what actually happens in the course of the film, it goes like this. Romijn-Stamos romps in France where she curls her lip into a fairly good sneer, runs afoul of some very, very unpleasant people, waves a gun around, and then marries nice but stupid rich guy Peter Coyote. But mostly she struts around in very sheer lingerie and has her way with hapless Antonio Banderas, who plays the photographer hired to take a photo of her when her stupid rich guy husband becomes the United States ambassador to France. She may have been hoping to be propelled to BASIC INSTINCT Sharon Stone-type fame, but the lap dance with the drunken French sailor will do little if anything to secure that sort of acclaim. Nor will her sex scene on a pool table with Antonio. Iíve seen people have more fun parallel parking. And can someone explain to me the whole sex-on-a-pool-table thing and why itís in so many movies? Is there a subculture out there that finds green felt exciting in ways that I am just never going to get?  


Banderas acquits himself somewhat better, or perhaps he wasnít acting when he plays the confused patsy of the piece. This script is as oblique as it is pretentious and the twist that is kinda cool comes way, way, way too late in the proceedings for us to be anything but annoyed to discover that De Palma, who also wrote the script, was capable of something competent.

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