Femme Fatale (5/10)

 Copyright © 2003 by Tony Medley


Director Brian De Palma obviously doesn’t trust the intelligence of his audience.  He starts Femme Fatale with one of his characters watching Double Indemnity, the Billy Wilder, Fred MacMurray-Barbara Stanwyck film that got film noir off and running (watching Double Indemnity today is like watching a dinosaur.  The acting is stilted and the script has some lines that are so bad they will live in infamy.  The “‘S'posin’” dialogue between Stanwyck and MacMurray is so bad it’s painful to listen to).  De Palma’s screaming, “This is film noir!!”  OK, already.

 If so, De Palma choked.  Jerry West used to say that there were a lot of players who liked to shoot, but when the game was on the line, most of them wanted to pass off.  There were very, very, few, West opined, who wanted to shoot in crunch time.  Why?  Because they choked.  A guy who scored 32 points would shoot an air ball when he took the last shot of the game.  In Femme Fatale, De Palma had a good game going, but shot an air ball at the end.

 And it’s too bad, because going into the final minutes he had a 30-point game, despite a leading lady Rebecca Romijn-Stamos whose acting doesn’t measure up to her great body for the dual roles she plays (Laure and Lilly).  In a story like this, any telling of the plot can ruin the film for the viewer, so I’m not going there.  It’s an ingenious plot and Laure Ash could have been a memorable character had she been played with some heart and talent.  Nicolas Bardo (well played by Antonio Banderas) enters the film later as the good guy victimized by Laure.

 It’s a pretty good ride, despite the failure of Romijn-Stamos, up until the last ten minutes when it should have ended.  But when the film continues it looks as if the suits in New York said, “Hey, we can’t end it like this.  This is Hollywood!  Let’s have a Hollywood ending!” so that’s what they did.  It almost looks as if the last ten minutes had been added after previews, like Thalberg used to do.  Big mistake.

 My advice?  Leave after the scene on the bridge and just figure the film ended there.  Had it, this would have been a very good film.  But the way it ends renders this mediocre, at best.  If only French Director Jacques Audiard (Read My Lips) had taken a shot at this material.  He would have had the courage and sensitivity to know how to end it.

 The End