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Nikon Icon: Rebecca Romijn-Stamos snaps back in 'Femme Fatale.'


'Femme Fatale' comes down on the side of the bad girl

By Richard von Busack

CALLING UP 777-FILM and hearing the title of Brian De Palma's Femme Fatale pronounced "femmy fatalie" was funny enough. But the preposterous twist ending tacked on the fairly poor erotic thriller in order to give it an upbeat ending was the last straw, even after the clever manipulation of a random event to change the story completely. The elaborate mechanics of the last scene are like the immaculately engineered El Camino Real shootout in De Palma's Raising Cain--obviously hard work, but too late to make a difference. As for lead Rebecca Romijn (pronounced "Romaine")-Stamos, she's a local, a UC-Santa Cruz student who dropped out to become a supermodel. A few terms at UCSC will certainly get you used to nudity. Covered with blue latex in X-Men, synthesized into unrecognizability in the neglected Simone, she has not had an easy career.

In Femme Fatale, De Palma does his best to cut down her dialogue, but this brilliant visual storyteller is once again betrayed by words. Romijn-Stamos does her part to play a woman with many identities, a "bad to the heart" girl--a tribute to Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity, which she's watching on TV in the opening scenes. It is possible that the movie is all taking place in the mind of a girl who fell asleep watching Stanwyck vamp Fred MacMurray, which leads to the possibility that I fell asleep watching Femme Fatale and dreamed all the stuff in it.

Here's what I think I saw. First, a far-too-elaborate heist that goes wrong at the Cannes Film Festival. Our anti-heroine, Laure Ash, an international jewel thief, targets a supermodel (Rie Rasmussen) wearing a priceless diamond-studded, serpent-shaped bustier seemingly based on the brass brassiere Theda Bara wore in the silent version of Cleopatra. While the two ladies have sex in the women's room, several other thieves break into the security system. De Palma keeps cutting between the love scene to the festival, where tedious real-life film director Regis Wargnier is waiting for his date to get out of the bathroom. As erotica, it is like a Playboy pictorial: some fakey-looking naked ladies, and then when you turn the page, some weary middle-aged face (Wargnier's, here) kills what little mood has been established.

Escaping, Laure hooks up two different suckers: first a diplomat (Peter Coyote); then a down-at-the-heels paparazzi. Antonio Banderas, who plays the photographer, ought to hire an unstoppable girl assassin to deal with his agent. Banderas is hooked into a kidnapping scheme and forced to deal with this unbalanced woman as she uses the power of her sex to bend men's willpower. Only in one scene--Laure clapping her hands and cawing with laughter as two men fight over her--is there something here of the power of the old maligning bad-girl myths. For what it's worth, Femme Fatale is a real attempt to make a pro-woman bad-girl film: it suggests that women betraying men is of no account, but women betraying other women is a misdeed so great that supernatural forces ought to be called in.

Femme Fatale (R; 114 min.), directed and written by by Brian De Palma, photographed by Thierry Arbogast and starring Antonio Banderas and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, plays at selected theaters valleywide.

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From the November 14-20, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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