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Photograph by Jerome Prebois

Catch as Catch Caine: Michael Caine plays a Nazi on the run who turns to Charlotte Rampling for help in 'The Statement.'

Caine Unable

They said police work was dull and routine, and then 'The Statement' proved it

By Richard von Busack

NORMAN JEWISON'S new film, The Statement, is the blandest loose-Nazi drama since The Odessa File, destined to be the unhappy diversion of passengers 30,000 feet over Nebraska. Even its forgettable title promises drowsiness. (The Statement is one of those movies perfect for late-night viewing--drift in and out of sleep, and you won't miss a trick.) Michael Caine stars as Pierre Brossard. In his youth, he was a minor officer of the Vichy police who pinpointed seven French Jews for execution. In 1992, it seems as if a Jewish Defense League organization, based in Canada, has sent vigilante assassins to kill him. Information about this plan has caught the attention of a magistrate (Tilda Swinton), who believes she can find Broussard despite failed previous attempts. She has recruited a French army officer (Jeremy Northam) to aid her.

Caine delivers one quick surprise in the beginning, deftly outwitting a killer who is waiting on a sage-covered hillside overlooking the Mediterranean. After this incident has made things hot for him, he goes on the run from abbey to abbey. He's an ardent Catholic, guilty, and dying, but a liability to the church, which once protected him as an anti-Communist.

In small roles, John Neville and the late Alan Bates are acceptably feline and continental, but the deracination of the film becomes too obvious to overlook. Caine as a Frenchman probably works on paper, but Charlotte Rampling is criminally miscast as an angry but dutiful Marseilles wife who's supposedly been cleaning hotel rooms right before we see her. Charlotte Rampling as a maid? Charlotte Rampling as a woman who easily forgives a threat to her dog's life? Hackneyed Frenchifying touches include playing a recording of "La Vie en Rose" in the background. There's only one particularly French joke in the midst of the film: a cafe where the owners turn out only to be pretending to be sweet and pleasant--their regular customer wasn't just a Nazi, he was a bad tipper.

The actual locations are a blessing--the scenery of the south of France is decidedly unlike that in To Catch a Thief. It's full of peeling vacant churches, soup kitchens and cheap bistros with ribbons hanging from the lintels over the doorways to discourage the flies. The film doesn't really work as suspense, with Caine wheezing and praying throughout. There's not much love interest, either, although the pursuers have some sort of absentminded flirtation.

A mortal half-hour of slackness and repetition stretches the film out, and The Statement's slow-learners-class titles announcing the scene changes are a depressing sign of the times: "Marseilles, France" is pretty bad; "Rome, Italy" is worse. Since The Statement is trying to be intelligible for an audience that isn't expected to know Rome is in Italy, the film may have also simplified and blunted another point. The victims Broussard fingered were Jews, though the Church's big problem was with Communists. I'm presuming the rationale is if the victims were presented as Communists, it was thought that the American audience wouldn't care if they got shot or not.

The Statement (R; 120 min.), directed by Norman Jewison, written by Ronald Harwood, based on a novel by Brian Moore, photographed by Kevin Jewison and starring Michael Caine and Charlotte Rampling, opens Friday at selected theaters.

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From the January 15-21, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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