Point of No Return

Reviewed By Ryan Arthur
Posted 06/17/02 13:05:41

"She never did mind the little things. Like acting lessons."
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

I guess I've never really understood the concept of Americanizing foreign films. Particularly movies as popular and well done as La Femme Nikita. But maybe that's why I'm not a Hollywood executive.

Point Of No Return is director John Badham's remake (or reinvisioning, or retelling, or whatever the term-du-jour in moviemaking is today) of Luc Besson's superior La Femme Nikita. Badham pretty much matches Besson shot for shot, using the same camera angles and dialogue (translated from French, of course). The story hasn't changed all too much.

Bridget Fonda plays the junked-up Maggie. With her stringy black hair, glassy eyes, pale and sweaty skin, Fonda looks almost completely unrecognizible, and that's the point. She'll go from one extreme to the other. Maggie takes part in a drugstore robbery with the rest of her burnout friends, but it goes south pretty quickly. The cops show and there's a firefight, and Maggie gets all fetal in a corner, where she's found by a cop making his walkthrough after the carnage. She promptly shoots him in the head. Maggie's tried, convicted and sentenced to death in record time, and is even executed...but wait! The execution was staged! Maggie is taken under the wing of Bob (Gabriel Byrne) and is offered a reprieve. All she has to do is go to work for the government as an assassin. She'll be trained in the deadly arts and be given some Miss Manners-like refinement. Maggie accepts and starts to learn how to drink while holding her pinkie finger out.

Following the requisite montage of Maggie learning how to work sophisticated weapons and be a little more ladylike (the latter lessons coming from Anne Bancroft) we see her settling down into her new life/identity in California, awaiting instructions. She goes on her missions and leads her double life of trying to fit in and falling (for some unknown reason) for a photographer named J.P., played by Dermot Mulroney, along with blowing shit up and shooting people with her sniper rifle. Eventually, following a badly botched mission (which leads to the introduction of Harvey Keitel as Victor, "the cleaner,") Maggie - inexplicably in love with the simpering J.P. - decides she wants out. Her supervisors decide she's expendable.

Part of the problem with Point Of No Return is that Fonda never really convinces in her role. As a junkie, she looks the part: thin and strung out and ratty, and when she's all cleaned up, she's nailed the look there as the redheaded hottie who kicks ass. And that's fine, but you kind of hope that Fonda's acting will lift her up a bit, and that never really happens. She kind of sleepwalks through the exposition parts of the story, and shows occasional flashes of fire when she's running and jumping and shooting her way through her missions, but for the most part, she's a little too bland for the role. A little too wholesome for the bad girl, a little too vanilla for the slinky sexpot. She's no Anne Parillaud, that's for sure.

Besson's Nikita was slick and sexy (thanks in large part to Parillaud, obviously), and was also pretty much pure fantasy. Badham's movie keeps the implausibility of the story - you'll note that no mention of Maggie's addictions are made after she cleans up, and also note that you'd have to be pretty clean living to be as inside as she is - but the sexiness and stylishness is pretty much gone. Aside from the slight changes that Fonda brings to her character (Maggie has more regret of what she does than Nikita was, for example), there's no real improvement on the original film. Of course, that would be hard to do for even the most accomplished filmmaker, but Badham screws up the sexuality of the film and botches the action, too. What's worse, the characters aren't fully fleshed out, either. Mulroney's J.P. is lame. He pines for Maggie with his sensitive guy come-ons in trying to learn more about her ("I want to know if this pretty face used to have pimples on it," is only slightly worse than "I want to know what your fifth grade teacher was like."), but Mulroney uses the some monotone he's used in every movie he's ever been in, and for the life of me, I can't figure out the attraction of the white trash facial hair. Dermot, stick with the TV movies, OK? As for the rest of the cast, Fonda looks good, as mentioned, but can't escape the shadow of Parillaud's Nikita. She doesn't even really try, and that's too bad, because it would've been interesting to see if she could make Maggie a little better than just a bullet-pointed character sketch. As it is, she seems to be just going through the motions. Gabriel Byrne looks tired, or bored, I can't really tell anymore. Keitel steals the show (as he did in just about every mid-nineties movie he was in) as Victor, one of the better creepy/cool villains of the action genre.

If it were a movie judged on its own merits, Point Of No Return would be an average film, at best. But it's tied to La Femme Nikita, just as movies like City Of Angels is tied to Wings Of Desire, and just as movies such as the current Insomnia is tied to the original Norwegian version.

In all of those cases, the remake will never live up to the original. That applies here as well.

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