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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Bad to the Core
by Betty Jo Tucker

After taking my lumps last year for lavishing such high praise on Original Sin, I resolved to be more objective about movies starring Antonio Banderas. In the case of Femme Fatale, it was easy. Movies featuring beautiful and manipulative sirens reached their peak of popularity in Hollywood films of the 1940s and 1950s. Although designed to pay homage to these films, Brian De Palma’s new thriller almost ends up as a parody instead – largely because of his female star.

Filmmaker De Palma’s big mistake involves the casting of Rebecca Romijn-Stamos (X-Men) as Laure/Lily, an illusive adventuress out for revenge and money. "Laure’s a born manipulator and her ability to change style and identity only heightens her fascinating aura," De Palma maintains. "She captivates us as we try in vain to determine her true intentions. We fall under the spell of her charm and eroticism and willingly offer ourselves to her scorpion sting."

This role cries out for a skilled actress, not for a photogenic model. By asking Romijn-Stamos to project the smoldering, evil persona of a woman like Barbara Stanwyck’s character in Double Indemnity or Rita Hayworth’s mysterious seductress in The Lady from Shanghai, De Palma expects the impossible. Granted, Romijn-Stamos certainly looks the part. And she hides NONE of her dazzling physical attributes as she strips and bumps and grinds. But, unfortunately, her acting talent consists mostly of blank stares and sexy poses.

Co-star Banderas demonstrates his ability to rise above questionable material here by delivering a sensitive and nuanced performance as Nicolas, a voyeuristic photographer trapped in Laure’s web of deceit. However, as I watched Banderas, I wondered if he wished the movie were a comedy, especially when he raised his eyebrows and asked his nearly-naked leading lady, "Are you flirting with me?"

Banderas describes Nicolas as "a projection of Laure’s spirit and hopes and fears." Still, while waiting for chemistry to develop between the two stars, I grew impatient. For some reason Banderas and Romijn-Stamos look awkward together to me. I started "flashing back" to the sensational Banderas/Angelina Jolie pairing of Original Sin.

Noted for his inventive cinematic style in such films as Obsession, Body Double, The Untouchables, and Carrie, De Palma succeeds in giving Femme Fatale the exciting look and feel of a thriller. He showcases parts of Paris we’ve never seen before on the big screen. And the opening sequence of a glitzy Cannes Film Festival event is a reel treat. "Bolero"-like background music adds to the suspense of a daring theft occurring during that glamorous program.

Would a "bad-to-the-core" female change her destructive ways if she saw her future? De Palma teases viewers with that possibility in Femme Fatale. Following this line of thinking, here’s my question to De Palma: would you have changed the casting of your movie if your crystal ball revealed how it turned out? What, no crystal ball? That explains everything.

(Released by Warner Bros. and rated "R" for strong sexuality, violence, and language.)

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