Premiere issue Autumn 2002

Does John Stamos know what his wife is doing?

Femme Fatale
Written and directed by Brian DePalma

Rated R for strong sexuality, language and violence.
Official Web site

What can you say about a director whose last decent film starred then new-comer Kevin Costner? Brian DePalma lost touch with the narrative years ago. His films have always punished audiences with pointless plots, but "Femme Fatale" — the latest "erotic" thriller — could be his worst film ever, and this is the man responsible for "Bonfire of the Vanities."

Rebecca Romijn-Stamos plays Laure Ash, the femme in question. We know she's dangerous from moment one: she watches the violent end of the Barbara Stanwyck thriller "Double Indemnity" in the nude. From there, she pulls off a multi-million dollar heist, double-crosses her partners and is left for dead at the bottom of a hotel. During this endless beginning sequence, an appalling bastardization of Ravel's Bolero blares on the soundtrack.

A twist of fate (or contrived script) brings Laure face to face with her doppelganger, a French woman who looks exactly like her. Trading places with her double, Laure begins a new life. Pretending to be the tragic Lili, Laure meets a wealthy businessman (Peter Coyote, "ET") and marries him. Seven years later, his appointment to the French ambassadorship yanks Laure/Lili back to Paris, where those she betrayed are after her with a vengeance. The audience might care if she had the semblance of a soul, but this cold calculating woman loves no one, not even herself.

Femme Fatale DePalma infuses this film with doubles — his favorite motif. Besides the identical twin with whom our anti-heroine trades places, photography and its ramifications are embedded in the plot. The film starts with Laure's cover as a paparazzi and picks up seven years later with the cunning stealth of another photographer (played by Antonio Banderas). Photography also plays into DePalma's theme of voyeurism. Everyone is either actively spying on others, or for Laure in an un-provocative striptease, forcing others to view their escapades.

Of course, as any DePalma fan knows, his favorite symbol of the double, the split-screen technique, is employed throughout. DePalma's greatest usage of the split screen was in the climactic prom sequence in "Carrie." That was 25 years ago. Now he's merely playing with the same tired toys.

There's another motif that would even puzzle Freud. Everything overflows: water from the bathtub, water from the fish tank, and honey onto the pants. What statement DePalma's trying to make has been lost.

Other staples in DePalma atrocities are misogyny and homophobia. No one tortures women or displays the hateful nature of the female species more than DePalma. Laure is such a vile character, I'm surprised that God didn't smite her down. And just so the gays don't feel slighted, Banderas manages a pointless fey imitation which would have been insulting back in the seventies. And pandering to the clichéd Penthouse fantasy, Laure's only "real" relationship is with her super-model wannabe female lover.

The acting is atrocious from the minor characters. Most appalling is the villain in the tuxedo, a French actor who obviously learned his lines phonetically. Romijn-Stamos and Banderas are watchable, but as in most DePalma films, they're merely window dressing for the gore, nudity and Hitchcockian rip-offs.

DePalma's script is hackneyed and full of plot holes. No one's motivations are credible and you have no sense that the film is leading in any direction. The entire film is like a runaway car with no steering. The twisted ending lifted me, but since I was 50,000 fathoms under the sea of caring, the ending could not save the film. Also, a third of the film is in French with English subtitles. Everyone speaks in French so rapidly that many times, you can't read the sentences before they move on to the next.

I'm unsure for whom this film was made. I can't imagine those who enjoy prurient behavior and cable TV goings-ons would appreciate reading subtitles. One good thing did come from the film. My friend turned to me near the end and claimed, "At least I can practice my French."

Review by Jonas Schwartz.

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