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Overall Rating

Awesome: 7.14%
Worth A Look: 14.29%
Average: 21.43%
Pretty Bad57.14%
Total Crap: 0%

1 review, 8 user ratings

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by Jack Sommersby

2 stars

Harrison Ford. Polanski. Paris. Great combo, right? Wrong.

Roman Polanski's Frantic is really anything but -- rather, it's a methodical procedural of a thriller where American doctor Richard Walker (Harrison Ford), while visiting Paris for a medical conference, finds his usually-serene life thrown into disarray when wife Sondra (Betty Buckley) mysteriously disappears from their hotel room while his jet-lagged self is trying to revive himself in the shower. He goes downstairs and questions some of the staff but to no avail, and when the hotel's head of security is enlisted nothing much comes of that, either. Thus far, director Polanski, who co-wrote the screenplay with his regular collaborator Gerard Brach, has meticulously laid out the groundwork in the understated manner that Alfred Hitchcock employed in his better efforts. Nothing is rushed or accentuated to point up the obvious; we're right there with the good doctor discovering tidbits of information in this foreign land on his same apprehensive level that hasn't quite yet hit panic mode. Polanski allows us to get our bearings and deftly uses film language to guide us through a story in a manner that really is a model of restraint; and, thankful that we are for being treated like adults, we find ourselves gratefully yielding to his vision. Walker starts canvassing the neighborhood with a photo of his wife, with matters turning a lot more serious when he's told by a drunk hippie that he saw a woman resembling her being forced into a car in an alley by two men; upon closer examination, the wife's name-engraved bracelet is found lying on the ground nearby; and after tracking down the concierge who was on duty when he checked in, he learns that a Middle Eastern man called up to the room, the wife came down, and they left with each other with the man's arm around her waist. But the local police aren't much help -- they insist on writing it up as a missing-person's case instead of a kidnapping -- and the American embassy isn't any more helpful -- they think the wife is engaged in an affair with a native. So Walker is left to his own limited devices, and he fastens upon the only thing in the hotel room that's out of place: a similar-looking suitcase that his wife picked up at the airport by mistake that has no name tag; searching through it, he comes up with nothing that seems significant -- only a matchbook from a nightclub with a person's first name and phone number written on it. From there, he descends into Paris's underworld where he eventually hooks up with young, tough-talking tootsie Michelle (Emmanuelle Seigner) who's a low-key player in a smuggling operation and whose suitcase is the one the wife picked up.

Obviously, Polanski wants to be commended for engineering such a low-key set-up in a genre that's prone to excess and sensationalism, and the first hour is indeed stellar -- we can't wait to see what's finally behind the menacing curtain. And some of the humor is smilingly sly, like when Walker goes looking for the "white lady" in the nightclub and winds up in a bathroom stall conceding to snort cocaine in a bathroom stall with a drug dealer who might have information, and later on when he's knocked to the floor in the nude by a corrupt cop while covering his crotch with a stuffed animal as he hits the floor. But right when the thriller elements need to start kicking in, Polanski's unable to jumpstart the proceedings and rachet up the suspense level. He throws in a couple of action sequences, but they're unimaginatively staged and have very little momentum; and the scenes in between are flat and enervating, in large part because the crime plot is appallingly weak (something to do with dastardly Arabs and a nuclear-device switch that's so ho-hum it might as well be a Hitchcock MacGuffin) and the character of Michelle is unpleasantly callow and just plain dull (she's supposed to be tantalizing in luring Walker into the criminal side of things but Seigner is a complete zero both erotically and emotionally). And it doesn't help that the story is absolutely riddled with holes. Why on earth didn't the villain tell Sondra it was his suitcase and to bring it down to him in the lobby? Why does he wait so long to phone the husband to make the exchange? Would even a bureaucratic embassy so coarsely and carelessly brush off a rich, upstanding citizen? In trying to have it both ways, Polanski has tripped himself up by building up the mystery angle so delicately yet delivering so very little in that he winds up painting himself into quite the artistic corner by promising steak tartar yet serving up stale meat loaf. While one can't really expect him to reach the virtuoso heights of his brilliant 1962 debut Knife in the Water that positively teemed with breathtaking underlying tension, it's not really too much to ask for some definition and shape to the second-half sections that are gamey and limp and come off like they were filmed on autopilot. Polanski just doesn't seem to have been committed to the film as a whole, and because of this we find ourselves having little actual stake in the goings-on when we should be enraptured by them at the edge of our seats. That leaves the hero, and he's a blank and a bore. Ford tries hard but isn't an imaginative enough actor to fill in blanks of which haven't been written; he's functional but nothing more, and since the character is in every scene, like Polanski's, Ford's negligibility is detrimental all the more.

Though it's not exactly worthy of stellar home-video treatment, the bare-bones/non-letterboxed DVD is a travesty.

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originally posted: 10/19/10 05:35:12
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User Comments

11/29/17 Anne Selby could have been great 2 stars
10/30/13 The Big D More suspense than action, but enough mystery to keep it interesting. 4 stars
11/10/10 Steve Benkin huh? Loved it. nothing great, but fun flick 4 stars
10/29/10 Debra DeLeone Even though this is also an older movie, the story line and the acting still makes this mov 5 stars
3/19/08 Random was Betty Buckley really the best choice for the damsel in distress?...yawn 2 stars
1/13/06 Jack Sommersby Dumb thriller elevated enough by Polanski''s creative staging and eye for detail. 3 stars
1/13/06 tatum The cast is more into this than the viewer 3 stars
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  26-Feb-1988 (R)
  DVD: 01-Jun-2004

  26-Apr-1988 (15)

  09-Jun-1988 (M)

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