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FEMME FATALE(director/writer: Brian De Palma; cinematographer: Thierry Arbogast; editor: Bill Pankow; music: Ryuichi Sakamoto; cast: Rebecca Romijn-Stamos (Laure/Lily), Antonio Banderas (Nicolas Bardo), Peter Coyote (Watts), Eriq Ebouaney (Black Tie), Edouard Montoute (Racine), Thierry Fremont (Serra), Gregg Henry (Shiff), Rie Rasmussen (Veronica); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Tarak Ben Ammar/Marina Gefter; Warner Bros; 2002)
“De Palma pulls his own switcheroo on the real story as it’s about to reach its climax and replaces it with a fake one.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Brian De Palma directs a depraved glossy neo-noir fantasy thriller, one that is pure escapism and a visual delight. It’s a homage to such femme fatale noir classics as Double Indemity. De Palma has also written the script for the melodramatic story filled with double-crosses and improbable coincidences and repetitious images. The film also makes use of the director’s assorted bag of tricks such as colorful noirish lighting effects and split-screens and time loops. There are bad girls and bad ass boys afoot, a love interest or two played off as suckers, bloody scenes where the blood purposely looks like Heinz ketchup, and enough plot twists to keep a future Sherlock Holmes off guard. What the film is missing is a story that makes sense and cares about the characters. But the flavor of the sleek film is styled in the way De Palma always films, it’s just that this is a more personal film and more absurd than most of his others. The fun in “Femme Fatale” is in how hypnotic it becomes, and in identifying the shots from a Hitchcock film or other noteworthy directors De Palma has stolen from. De Palma has found a heroine suitable of carrying the film solely on sex appeal, not caring a lick that she can’t act. Rebecca Romijn-Stamos’ role is much like the heroines in “Vertigo” and “Rear Window,” except for the so-called arty sex and nude scenes.

The film opens as a chic mannequin-like blonde, Laure (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), is sitting half naked on a sofa watching the conclusion of a subtitled in French version of Double Indemity in her hotel room and is rudely interrupted by the film’s heavy, French-African, Black Tie (Eriq Ebouaney), and is slapped around and sternly ordered to be prepared for tomorrow’s heist. Rebecca Romijn-Stamos is made to look like Lana Turner.

At the 2001 Cannes Film Festival in the Grand Palais, an elaborate and detailed jewelry heist has been schemed. Posing as a press photographer, Laure meets in the ladies’ room for a quickie with a French starlet, Veronica (Rie), modeling a serpent-shaped wraparound brassiere loaded down with studded-diamonds. Meanwhile, one of Laure’s accomplice’s, Racine (Montoute), is using a laser gun to knock out the power supply, as the mastermind of the operation, Black Tie, eludes Veronica’s bodyguards and the security cameras and sneaks into the toilet to pull off a switchover. While the hot ladies make steamy love and Laure strips the model of her jewelry, Black Tie replaces the jewels with glass. The lesbian lovers pull off a double-cross, as Laure turns on Black Tie with the butt of his own gun after he has been hit by gunfire from one of the bodyguards. Laure, after fleeing like a star strutting on the red carpet at the festival is spotted by a freelance paparazzi photographer Nick Bardo (Antonio Banderas), who snaps her picture. This alarms Laure and she runs into a church, where she’s mistaken for another. After fleeing from the church, Laure is thrown off a balcony by Racine but safely lands on some rolled-up carpets and is taken home by the mistaken parents who call her by their daughter’s name of Lily (in a film like this it is reasonable to expect the parents to mistake someone else for their daughter!).

Black Tie gets a seven year jail sentence, while Racine remains on the loose trying to hunt down Laure and the jewels.

From here on, the story gets real silly. Laure on a flight to America meets the wealthy American software businessman turned diplomat Watts (Peter Coyote); and, the film skips seven years and picks up when she has married her Prince Charming. When hubby becomes the ambassador to France, Mrs. Watts reluctantly returns to the country where she has a history. The now retired paparazzi photographer, Nick, comes out of retirement to take the only picture ever taken of Mrs. Watts. Nick sells it to a magazine, but gets involved with Mrs. Watts when he becomes overly concerned that she bought a gun from a shady character. The femme fatale sets up the hustling photographer by framing him as a blackmailer and kidnapper, as she schemes to take the $10 million ransom her husband is prepared to pay for her release. Of course, if she had a brain she could have divorced her ‘richest man in the world’ hubby and gotten more dough. The film only gets worse from here on storywise.

The only way to like this film is to regale De Palma for what he’s good at creating, and ignore what has always been schlock about his filmmaking. If you can take pleasure in how delightful this absurd tale is visually, and get a few laughs from its campy parody then you can see what the fans of De Palma like about his work. What might turn you off, is that De Palma pulls his own switcheroo on the real story as it’s about to reach its climax and replaces it with a fake one. Now I consider that criminal, and after that cheating incident I lost interest.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”