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MORIARTY Rolls Around In FEMME FATALE And Gets The Stink On Him!!

Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.

I remember when I reviewed the script for this film, over a year ago. I got furious e-mail and hateful talk backs because I dared to say that the screenplay for the next De Palma film was, basically, trash.

And don’t get me wrong... if you go back to read that piece, you’ll see that I am a long-time De Palma fan. I think the guy is one of the visually impressive directors to come out of the ‘70s. I love his ability with the camera, and I think he’s gotten a bum rap over the years. I’ve written at length about the reasons I enjoy his work before, so I won’t rehash them here.

I will say this, though, having gone to the Cinerama Dome on Monday night for the premiere of FEMME FATALE... everything I thought was wrong with the script is still wrong with the movie, but if anything, I think De Palma cheated himself by not shooting the full-blown sleazefest that he wrote. For a film that features a sexually aggressive monster as the main character, this film ends up playing as surprisingly chaste. Yes, there’s skin, but there’s none of the genuinely delighted little boy that used to distinguish the way De Palma handled nudity in his films. For the first time in a long time, it doesn’t feel like De Palma’s enjoying the skin or the sleaze or any of his usual bag of tricks. Within ten minutes of the film, I realized how tonally different his film was going to be from the script I read, and watching how he chose to bring his own writing to life is a real education.

FEMME FATALE is trash. Make no mistake. But it’s gloriously overbaked, drunk on itself, and for any serious fan of the filmmaker, there’s a wealth of material to ponder here. It’s a De Palma film the way RAISING CAIN is a De Palma film. In fact, of all of his recent pictures, those two may reveal the most about the truly sick prankster heart of this aging iconoclast.

This is a film that is preoccupied with the way things look, and the way that appearance can frequently mask the way things truly are. De Palma’s got an elaborate game in mind, but he never once lies to the audience. He tells you right from the start what you’re going to see, even if you don’t realize he’s telling you. Check out the name of the company (Qantis) that produced the movie. Check out the name of the airline on the front of a plane ticket that is part of a key plot point. Check out the way seemingly surreal imagery like a poster in the background that somehow features the face of our lead character along with the words “Deja Vue” or an overflowing fishtank all tie in to the film’s big “twist.” This film never once pretends to take place in the real world.

The opening images should make that abundantly clear, as we watch the climax of DOUBLE INDEMNITY play out, with the reflection of Laure (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) superimposed over the familiar black and white visages of Stanwyck and McMurray. Then there’s the lunatic nonsense of the opening heist scene. It’s not a well-constructed heist. If you really think about the details of the thing, it’s ludicrous and shouldn’t generate any suspense at all. However, thanks to De Palma’s keen sense of rhythm and the sleek, preposterously sexy cinematography of Thierry Arbogast, it’s all incredibly absorbing. You can’t help but be drawn into things. There’s a mural made up of hundreds of individual photos that plays a peripheral role in things that is really quite astonishing, the work of Bart De Palma, the director’s brother. It’s something that other directors would have built their whole film around, but to De Palma, it’s a sideline, just one more fabulous visual distraction in a movie overstuffed with them.

The key visual distraction in the movie is Rebecca Romijn-Stamos herself. She’s a stunning woman, all polished edges and hard lines and wicked curves. She teases in the movie, never quite showing what you want her to show at the moment you want her to show it. She seems far more in control of how her sexuality is exploited in the film than Nancy Allen did in her De Palma film or than Melanie Griffith did in BODY DOUBLE. There’s a moment in a biker bar where she provokes a fight between two men where De Palma chooses to show her, not the fight. We see everything we need to see in the almost animal reaction she has to this chaos she’s caused. She’s not just blindingly hot in the movie; she’s actually pretty good.

I think the film will frustrate anyone looking for any sort of conventional thriller. It’s ultimately not about the thrills. Instead, it’s about gameplay. It’s about the structure of the film itself. It’s a joke on the viewer, but it’s also an invitation to be in on the joke. It’s very much a film for the hardcore fan. For the most part, I’d say general audiences are going to reject this outright. For a few particular fans of the entire body of work that De Palma’s crafted, this is going to prove to be a film worth chewing on. Ebert’s four-star review today is funny to me, because it’s going to send a lot of mainstream audiences to see the film, and they’re going to stagger out of it, furious at Ebert. Personally, I just want to know what Mr. Beaks, who wrote such a great series on De Palma for us when the Lincoln Center did a restrospective of his work last year, has to say about it after he gets out of the first show today. Maybe me, him, and Smiling Jack Ruby should sit down to piece together an unassailable defense of this film.

Or maybe I should just say that by now, you should know if you’re even remotely interested in seeing the film or not. If you’re still reading, and you’re curious to see just how hard De Palma can resist the urge to make a coherent film, then check out FEMME FATALE now before it gets steamrolled by the blockbuster season ahead.

"Moriarty" out.

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