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Overall Rating

Awesome: 12.5%
Worth A Look: 14.58%
Average: 4.17%
Pretty Bad56.25%
Total Crap: 12.5%

4 reviews, 24 user ratings

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Femme Fatale
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by Erik Childress

"There's No Defending This One. Deja Vu-F.U."
2 stars

Brian DePalma is one of those modern directors whose latest films always raise an eyebrow amongst film lovers. Notorious for his love of the wide-widescreen, DePalma always makes great looking films; films that urge you to just stare at the tricks he’s pulling off, all within the confines of the extra-wide frame. Occasionally he’ll opt for the more matted 1:85 aspect ratio, one which doesn’t lose quite the 40% of picture in a chopped-up pan-and-scan version on your square television sets. And recently when he does (The Bonfire of the Vanities, Raising Cain), well, the results have been less than spectacular. His latest, Femme Fatale is shot in the 1:85 format and not only could he have used the additional 40% of frame for his ideas, but you’re liable to walk out of the theater wanting to chop something ELSE up.

Imagine having one of your best friends punch you in the balls when you weren’t expecting it. You walk it off and later smile because you didn’t see it coming. Seven years later, your friend isn’t quite the best anymore. He walks up to you and punches you in the balls again. Wouldn’t you be inclined to give that friend the finger, saying that you got me once, but you should never do that again?

What begins as a promising thriller in a well-structured opening heist (in true DePalma fashion) and continues well through the first hour as a sort of European Hitchcock tale, deconstructs and implodes (in true DePalma fashion.) Laure Ash (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) is a thief, whose identity isn’t quite concealed on that press badge she wears to a film premiere where a not-so-elaborate diamond theft is about to go down. A film director’s mistress (ultra-hot Rie Rasmussen) shows up wearing a golden diamond snake top, which curls around her back and barely covers up her naughty bits. The plan: lure her into the bathroom, undress and make out with her for about ten minutes while one guy switches the diamonds on the other side of the stall (in full view of any in-coming patronettes) while another uses a snake-like laser to knock out the lights in full view of a security guard.

The ludicrous nature of this concoction still manages to work through the way of DePalma’s camera movements, use of music and meticulous timing. No one ever said suspension of disbelief wasn’t a required factor when getting into your average DePalma thriller. Laure throws a wrinkle into the proceedings by snatching the diamond outfit for herself (don’t bother to ask what ever becomes of it as the story takes shape.) Laure is later mistaken for a grieving French widow who could be her twin (again, convenience) and uses her identity to hightail it out of the country, meeting along the way Bruce Hewitt Watts (Peter Coyote, whom we would all like to thank for showing up for a mere three scenes.)

Seven years pass (get a sense of déjà vu?) and Laure finds herself back in Paris now that Bruce is the American Ambassador to France. Nicolas Bardo (Antonio Banderas, having some real fun) is still there too, and he’s about to snap her picture again, just as he did seven years prior. Conveniently, this doesn’t bode well for Laure as her ex-partners in crime see her picture on a poster, conveniently. Using that word sounds like a bad thing and likely it’ll be too much for most viewers to swallow, but I was along the ride, enjoying a mostly dialogue-absent film as characters watch each other and sometimes use being watched to their advantage. What are we seeing? What aren’t we seeing? It’s all fascinating and DePalma tweaks us just enough along the way before he allows it to slowly unravel when he tries to reveal Laure’s true colors.

In the hands of Stamos, that’s basically bad acting. When we’re allowed to look at her, DePalma can maintain the allure of sexiness that he wants to grant Laure with the very title of his movie. But when she tries to be bad, boy does it start to go bad. Not for a moment do we believe what Laure is doing in the final hour and the more clothes she takes off, surprisingly, the less sexy she becomes. Who am I to argue that watching Stamos strip down to white underwear, then later doing a full-on Demi Moore act in black and writhing on a pool table is a bad thing? The genitals may go North but the temptation is further South than a Confederate Redneck in Antarctica. The seductiveness of a femme fatale resides in the “we know we shouldn’t but we really want to” category; a voluptuousness that reeks of sin. Stamos is more supermodel than Rita Hayworth and ends up falling into the category of “pork away pal, fuck her blue, who cares?

Femme Fatale is like a DePalma’s greatest hits package if the greatest hits were the brief samples you find on websites before you buy the album. All of his familiar tricks are here including one that makes up the biggest turn of the film. Less of a twist and more of a snatch-and-grab where the rug is pulled out from under you, placed over your head until you’re beaten into submission, all the while making you believe that you deserved the pummeling.

After all these years, DePalma is still trying to remake Vertigo in true DePalma fashion. I just never expected him to channel Emilio Estevez’s Wisdom. Clever clues along the way (notice Stamos’ head framed in a “Déjà vu” poster) don’t help to unravel the mystery beneath the surface, because how can one ever guess that DePalma would once again reduce his material with such a pointless and aggravating gimmick? If he was just trying to give David Lynch a little smack-on-the-head for Mulholland Drive, then so be it. But when he goes 180 degrees on us, it doesn’t feel like it and forgive me for dipping into a first grader’s vocabulary here, but the final act of Femme Fatale is just...stupid. Lynch’s film, while unsuccessful and equally frustrating, was at least trying to tell an old story in a new way. Femme Fatale offers nothing more than a bait-and-switch that is beyond playing fair with the audience. Are we dealing with dreams, visions or being told what actually happened as if it were the third ending of Clue?

Anyone who has given film lovers Carrie, Blow Out, The Untouchables, Scarface, Carlito’s Way and Body Double deserves our complete respect. But this was the first time I actively walked out of a DePalma film angry. And this is coming from someone who defends Mission to Mars, believes Bonfire of the Vanities isn’t a bad film and thinks Mission: Impossible is a great film. Call me whatever you want but I have to call out DePalma on this one and hold him accountable for tweaking our nipples and then punching us in the balls.

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originally posted: 11/08/02 07:49:52
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User Comments

12/29/17 morris campbell good not great 4 stars
7/03/06 Dani Brilliant filmmaking. 5 stars
4/11/05 R.W. Welch Overly artsy technique bogs down story line. Just passable. 3 stars
11/21/04 Victor She's stunning, the scene where she gets ass fucked is perfect. 5 stars
8/09/04 Lucas awesome 5 stars
7/20/04 boo not that bad, but not as good as it could have been 4 stars
4/17/04 Michael Greenwaldt A HORRIBLE bore! I'm serious when I say I thought it had been on for 4 hours. Worst of 02'! 1 stars
1/13/04 John a nice opening squence followed by a contrived and far fetched plot 2 stars
11/08/03 Agent Sands (previously Mr. Hat) It wasn't at all what I expected, but it was great nonetheless. Lots of brilliant stuff. 4 stars
5/25/03 Jack Sommersby Too-stylish film make syou regret having given it the benefit of the doubt for too long. 2 stars
5/23/03 mr. Pink Some great sequences can't elavate this dissapointment to a good film. 3 stars
5/12/03 Jesse Widmark Really Bad screenplay/ annoying directing 1 stars
4/20/03 jay not as promising as it appears 4 stars
4/16/03 Orson Welles FF is a highly reflected neo noir, full of intertextuality and deeply embedded in the femme 4 stars
4/15/03 Tom Sucked, The dream crap just pisses me off 1 stars
4/10/03 Ingo There's far more than you see at first glance - highly recommended. 5 stars
2/16/03 qdorfman It's not a thriller for God's sake. Worth more than one viewing.. 5 stars
12/12/02 Natalie Stonecipher A piss-off within a bull-shit wrapped up inside a fuck-up! 1 stars
12/07/02 RB None 2 stars
11/25/02 1sexyb It was entertaining & fun to watch, and yes, rebecca is hot! 4 stars
11/19/02 jeff not a waste of time. Rebecca is amzingly good looking. 4 stars
11/14/02 Kelleigh oh-my-fucking-god...rebecca is amazingly arousing. Awesome movie. God Damn! 5 stars
11/09/02 Christiane Ley The T&A alone didn't justify the $6 I paid to sit through 2 hours of agony. 1 stars
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  06-Nov-2002 (R)



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