directed by Mathieu Kassovitz with Jean Reno and Vincent Cassel
THE MONKEY'S MASK directed by Samantha Lang with Susie Porter and Kelly McGillis both open Aug. 10 at Broadway Market
CRIME IS THE universal language, and the lexicon of American crime movies is now being retranslated back to us with often baffling results. Once the auteurs of the nouvelle vague reimagined our trenchcoated toughs as existential heroes; now they take their cues more from serial killer flicks than from Raymond Chandler. So it is with the French import The Crimson Rivers, which cheerfully proclaims its debt to Seven and The Silence of the Lambs in its publicity materials—sparing you the effort of watching it to reach the same conclusion.
For those who insist, however, Jean Reno and Vincent Cassel play a pair of mismatched cops—one big and calm, the other small and hotheaded—whose separate investigations lead them into conflict and inevitable cooperation in an alpine university town. Chases, kickboxing, gruesome autopsies, and even a bit of scenic glacial exploration ensue, all of it given a pulpy, energetic spin by a smart guy who knows better: Mathieu Kassovitz, whose direction of Caf頡u Lait and La Haine and acting in films like A Self-Made Hero make him an important, opinionated force in France's Gen-X cinema generation.
At least Kassovitz is plainly slumming, making no effort to disguise the silliness and clich鳠of Crimson's fatuous source material, unlike Samantha Lang, whose Australian lesbian noir The Monkey's Mask suffers from a surfeit of seriousness by comparison. Hence we have a young P.I. excessively fond of voice-over narration—in two tenses, even!--who unwisely falls for a femme fatale (Kelly McGillis) while investigating a murder set, get this, in Sydney's sordid underground world of poetry readings and kinky sex clubs! If only it were that much fun (or even a bit campy). Notable only for its many soft, soft-core images of McGillis' naked, now-matronly body (15 years after Top Gun), Mask couldn't hold a candle to Law & Order or Prime Suspect even as a desexed TV cop show. (Helen Mirren would make quick work indeed of runty Susie Porter.)
What hath Hollywood wrought? Even in a year brightened by Memento and Sexy Beast (both temperamentally British), can't these foreigners do better? Let them remake old episodes of The Rockford Files if they're that starved for ideas. (McGillis, playing an American in Oz, actually uses the word "fortnight"!) Jet-lagged yet voluble at SIFF this spring, Kassovitz frankly confessed of his cop flick, "It's just entertainment." Then came the warning: "You'll see plenty of action-packed movies coming from France."
The shame of it is that they all truly originate here. With Crimson, you get too much testosterone, with Mask, too much estrogen, but both films share a lack of brains—which is as American as apple pie.