Beginning with a ludicrous jewel heist (by means of a gratuitous lesbian scene) at the Cannes Film Festival, a bit of gun play, betrayal and flight, Femme Fatale is another De Palma triumph of style over substance…
That even goes for the poor title. Rebecca Romijn’s femme is neither fatale nor fatal; amoral rather than immoral, she spends much of the movie running about in states of undress.
It’s easy to forget what De Palma’s long reputation was built on: the sensationalist Scarface and classic Stephen King horror Carrie; the popcorn thrills of The Untouchables and Snake Eyes; decent dramas Carlito’s Way and Casualties of War. Unfortunately he also gave us lurid by-the-numbers thrillers The Black Dahlia, Body Double, Dressed to Kill and Obsession and rock-opera parody Phantom of the Paradise.
He frequently sprints along that fine line between cinematic daring and reckless stupidity and just as frequently falls over it. Is he overrated, or is his weakness to succumb, like contemporary Paul Verhoeven, to revel in leering, masochistic, voyeuristic pulp movies with big name stars?
After the heist, Romijn escapes to the United States, marries a diplomat (Peter Coyote), returns with her Ambassador husband to France where photographer Antonio Banderas recognises her as the con artist from years before and inadvertently puts her newly-released associate, the bloodthirsty Black Tie on her trail.
Romijn has a screen presence but is out of her depth. She hasn’t the range or charisma to be the Sharon Stone or even (gulp) the Natasha Henstridge this movie needs to succeed.
You are left wondering what A-listers like Coyote and Banderas are doing in this. Banderas drops in and out of the plot without achieving anything - no heroics, no romance. We don’t like his amoral journalist any more than we care about Romijn’s past life and family.
That leaves a paper-thin, sub-noire, borderline racist plot, with some Macguffins about the stolen jewels. There’s an entire middle section which we’re meant to believe is a premonition (read dream sequence), the most improbable plot ‘twist’ since Patrick Duffy stepped out of the shower in Dallas and the biggest cheat I’ve seen in a movie in years. Either Stamos is Mystic Meg or De Palma has been laughing at us for an hour and a half. Did he expect us to take Femme Fatale seriously? The gloss fails to cover the cliché-riddled dialogue and a plot that collapses under the weight of too many coincidences and contrivances. Go rent a classic noire on DVD instead. RC
Running time: 110mins
MPAA Classification: R (Sex, nudity, violence, profanity)
Cast: Rebecca Romjin-Stamos, Antonio Banderas, Peter Coyote, Eriq Ebouaney, Edourad Montoute, Rie Rasumssen, Thierry Fremont
Director: Brian De Palma
Screenplay: Brian De Palma
Music: Ryuichi Sakamoto
Studio: Warner Brothers