Femme Fatale Movie Review

The only thing worse than a bad movie is a bad movie that takes itself seriously. Not only is your intelligence insulted, but the director is revealed to be a snob as well as a failure. And worst of all, the film is usually boring.

Femme Fatale is an exception to this to this rule. There is no question that Brian De Palma's latest is a steaming pile, and you can smell smug all over what he thinks are clever film techniques (split screens, operatic slow motion, etc). But just before I started throwing stuff at the screen in a show of displeasure, something magical happened--I laughed. And once I started laughing at Femme Fatale, I couldn't stop. The resentment felt for losing two hours of my life to this confused, badly acted, illogical, exploitative jewel heist-cum-meditation on fate was replaced with the giddy revelation that I had become involved in a cinematic experience on par with Paul Verhoeven's Showgirls.

Rebecca Romijn-Stamos plays Laure Ash, a double-crossing bisexual jewel thief who bails on her partners after stealing a fortune in custom-made jewelry from a beautiful attendee of the Cannes film festival -- but not before engaging in some extended, studiously photographed girl-on-girl action in the theater bathroom. On the run from her partners, Laure finds herself hiding in the closet of a woman on the brink of suicide. It just so happens that this woman looks just like her, and has a valid passport and a ticket to the United States for that afternoon. Talk about being in the right place at the right time! During her escape she meets a software millionaire (Peter Coyote), and they instantly fall in love.

Seven years later, Ash finds herself back in Paris against her will with her recently appointed ambassador husband, living a life of privilege and self-imposed isolation. When a photo taken by a down and out paparazzi-turned-artist-turned-paparazzi (Antonio Banderas) is plastered all over Paris (and why not, aren't we all fascinated by the lives of ambassadors' wives?) Ash finds her new life in jeopardy as her one-time jewel thief partners close in to collect on unpaid debts. So begins a series of incomprehensible chases, blackmails, kidnappings, etc. that culminates in the use of one of the most terrible and artificial narrative devices in the history of storytelling. Think Bobby Ewing and you'll get the idea.

Femme Fatale freely careens between clichéd and absurd. Romijn-Stamos delivers inanities like "I'm a bad girl, a really bad girl" with an appropriate absence of fire and authenticity. It is difficult for anyone to nonchalantly deliver lines like "You don't have to lick my ass; just fuck me," but listening to Romijn-Stamos force such dreck through cheesecloth-thin acting talent makes you long for her silent performance in X-Men.

Commercials for Femme Fatale call De Palma "The master of the erotic thriller." He's a master all right. Allowing his camera to linger on Romijn-Stamos's body to an embarrassing degree, all eroticism destroyed by the nearly audible sound of the director masturbating just off-screen. The results are not sexy, just distasteful -- like getting turned by the thought of Gina Gershon eating dog food.

But this all culminates into such a bad, self-satisfied film that you can't help but marvel, and laugh, at it. Antonio Banderas appears to understand what a crap movie this is, and it looks like he is having fun along the way. He tries on an effeminate lisp and limp wrist for what would be an offensive gay stereotype if he didn't play it with such abandon. Banderas doesn't attempt to give a career-making performance like Romijn-Stamos appears to be. He's trying to amuse himself until this train wreck of a film comes to a halt. Just like the audience.

Reviewed at the 2002 Mill Valley Film Festival.

Phlegm fatale.


Femme Fatale Rating

" Terrible "

Rating: R, 2002


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