Femme Fatale (2002) Movie Review

You could take Brian De Palma’s “Femme Fatale” as a serious piece of moviemaking if you like, but what’s the point? The writer/director himself doesn’t seem to really care all that much about plot and story, or why A leads to B which ends with C, etc. De Palma (“Mission Impossible”) is most interested in the exercise of moviemaking style, of technique and devices, and the rest are purely incidental.

“Femme Fatale” opens with Laure (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) participating in a poorly planned heist of some fancy jewelry (although they don’t look like it) that is currently being (literally) worn by a supermodel. The supermodel is showing the jewelry (supposedly costing millions) during the Cannes Film Festival in France, and it’s Laure’s job to seduce the supermodel in a bathroom while her cohorts exchange the real jewelry with fake ones. Despite a lot of problems (this is a very poorly planned robbery!), the plan succeeds (just barely), and Laure walks out of the festival with the loot, leaving the leader of the thieves in hot water (and shot). The leader goes to prison while Laure tries to find a way out of France. She succeeds, only to have a twist of fate bring her back to France, and back to a world of trouble.

The truth is, I don’t know why I bothered giving you the above encapsulation of the movie (sarcastic parentheticals notwithstanding). “Femme Fatale” is so uninterested in storytelling that it’s rather silly to bother talking about the merits of its story, plot, or characters. American filmmaker (and now expatriate?) De Palma shoots “Femme Fatale” as if he was still working in the late ’70s or early ’80s, two periods marked by commercial successes with films that “made” De Palma. The director hasn’t had a lot of quality success since those periods, so maybe that’s why “Femme Fatale” looks “older” than it is. (“The Untouchables”, I believe, was his last critical success.)

There are two ways to approach “Femme Fatale” — as if you’re watching a filmmaker trying to rediscover the love of the art form, or as a straight movie. Watching “Femme Fatale” and its female lead, supermodel-turned-actress Rebecca Romijn-Stamos (“X-men”), try to struggle through her dialogue and her “character” is a mistake. The only real talent Romijn-Stamos is required to show here is a lot of skin and the body to make the skin look good. She has both in spades, by the way.

The acting by all involve is actually quite poor, but that’s not really irrelevant considering De Palma barely bothers to make the movie credible to begin with. The story is muddled and covered from end to end in contrivances; things don’t make sense, plot points are so wholeheartedly unconvincing that the phrase “suspension of disbelief” gets trashed completely. There are, of course, twists galore, but the majority of them exist just so they can exist. There’s no rhyme or reason for them, because it’s all about devices, not storytelling.

The real star of “Femme Fatale” is De Palma’s insistence that you concentrate on his skills as a technician. The movie moves at a fluid pace, with the opening heist taking up nearly 20 minutes, and Laure’s flight from France taking up another 20 or so. By the time the film kicks back into its main plot (and I use the term loosely), we’re past the halfway mark. The rest of the movie is better left unsaid.

Taken as a platform for De Palma to showcase some pizzazz and style, “Femme Fatale” is a heck of a lot of fun to watch. Whole sequences get repeated; whole locations get reused; and whole characters re-appear. For instance, although the movie purports to skip 7 years, no one in the film seems to have aged a single day. It all fits into De Palma’s plan, which is to showcase the magic of filmmaking, where anything and everything is possible. Film is not the real world, De Palma seems to be pointing out; none of this nonsense would be possible in the real world, not by a longshot.

I won’t go so far as to say that “Femme Fatale” is some great achievement. Its technical craftsmanship is oftentimes clever, and its ability to be completely devoid of substance or narrative cohesion is laudable. Lead Rebecca Romijn-Stamos is sexy as hell regardless of hair color or state of dress (or is often the case, undress). Beyond those points, there really is nothing about “Femme Fatale” that would make it required viewing for Joe Q. Public. This movie is for filmmakers, or aficionados of the art form. No one else need apply.

Brian De Palma (director) / Brian De Palma (screenplay)
CAST: Rebecca Romijn-Stamos …. Laure/Lily
Antonio Banderas …. Nicolas Bardo
Peter Coyote …. Watts
Rie Rasmussen …. Veronica
Thierry Fr’mont …. Serra
Gregg Henry …. Shiff

Buy Femme Fatale on DVD