The Manipulator

Sucked in and loving it.


written and directed by Brian De Palma

opens Nov. 6 at Meridian, Metro, and others

FEMME FATALE BEGINS with the usual De Palma-isms (naughty sex, elaborate heists, split screens, Hitchcock references, hidden cameras, and voyeurism galore), yet it ends up someplace entirely unexpected. It's as if the veteran director had tossed his familiar script pages in the air, then reassembled them in a fresh new order. We don't need another slick, hackneyed jewel-heist flick with a sexy-but-treacherous heroine, and evidently, Brian De Palma feels the same impatience. So stick with Femme, whose plot he subverts suddenly and audaciously.

The titular dame is a heartless jewel thief prone to profound utterances like, "This espresso is cold." Model-turned- actress Rebecca Romijn-Stamos is basically a mannequin (her flat American accent is more valley girl than criminal sophisticate), but she looks great in lingerie. And that's what De Palma cares about: privileging viewers through the omniscient lens, then fooling them with its distortion. He gets off on that Hitchcock-like power, disorienting us with alternating subjective and objective shots, willfully keeping the movie off balance.

As the hapless paparazzo snookered by the thief's self-kidnapping scheme, Antonio Banderas mainly gets to look stunned and confused, but he never makes the mistake of taking the material seriously. (With Romijn-Stamos, you don't feel that's an option.) He's Walter Neff to her Phyllis Dietrichson, which De Palma plainly signals with an opening-scene clip from Double Indemnity.

Femme's lurchy plotting—death plunge, warm bath, identity theft, blackmail, kidnapping, sex on pool table—often seems way too shoddy for the expert director. It's weird, but De Palma has a reason for his illogic. Entering the fourth decade of an up-and-down career (from Carrie to Mission to Mars), he may no longer be reaching for greatness, but he still knows how to make you feel good about being a patsy.

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