Fatale Detraction

Beyond cheap turn-ons, there's nothing to recommend Brian De Palma's latest.

It's possibly more ironic than Brian De Palma realizes that his latest movie, Femme Fatale, features a down-on-her-luck mother who was "replaced" seven years ago by her less benevolent, reputation-destroying, jewel-stealing doppelgänger (both played by Rebecca Romijn-Stamos). When you look at De Palma's output, it becomes increasingly more believable that the director himself was replaced seven years ago by an evil double out to savage what remained of the once-acclaimed auteur's dwindling rep. How else to explain Mission: Impossible, Mission to Mars, or Snake Eyes? Brian, of course, would blame the American studio system and its constraints for those movies' flaws, which is why he went to France to make Femme Fatale. And it is better than those other films. But not by much.

The story opens with a heist at the Cannes film festival. This being ersatz French cinema, much of the heist action is required to involve scenes at urinals, but for all the guys in the house, we also get a nice little dose of HLA (hot lesbian action) between Romijn-Stamos and a nearly naked fashion model. At any rate, the heist sequence is kinda fun, but the story goes downhill afterward, as Romijn-Stamos escapes and conveniently meets her exact duplicate, who -- just as conveniently -- dies shortly thereafter. This allows the American jewel thief to become bereaved French housewife Lily, marry an ambassador, and apparently, spend the next seven years of her life maintaining a fake Gallic accent.

The action resumes when "Lily" returns to France with her ambassador hubby (Peter Coyote, in the film's best performance) and catches the eye of a down-and-out photographer (Antonio Banderas) who stands to make money from tabloid shots of her.

Needless to say, Banderas and Romijn-Stamos get involved, professionally and otherwise -- most notably in a lap-dance sequence that's worth the price of a video rental some months from now. Now here's the shocker: She may be double-crossing him! He seems sort of aware of this, but doesn't manage to prepare for the inevitable very well.

De Palma comes across as quite pleased with himself, especially during a credulity-stretching finale invoking fate and chaos theory that may have been partially inspired by Memento. Though it involves an absolutely idiotic turn of events, it culminates in a sequence that's well choreographed, repeating certain motifs in a way that may make you want to go back and watch certain scenes over again . . . providing you've already blanked on how tedious they were the first time.

Romijn-Stamos is competent as an actor, but her best trait remains a proclivity for shedding clothes whenever the action calls for it (or not, actually). Banderas, on the other hand, plays it like the kind of role his character in Spy Kids supposedly parodies.