Movie Review

April 16, 1997|By Jason Myers

Val Kilmer may be "The Saint," but John Cusack is better in "Grosse Pointe Blank"

Val Kilmer has not exactly had the best judgment lately - he dropped the gazillion-dollar Batman franchise, then starred (I use starred rather than acted, because he did little more than impersonate his co-star Marlon Brando) in "The Island of Dr. Moreau." Now he translates the old Roger Moore television series "The Saint," in which Simon Templar acts as an independent spy, to what might become a new movie franchise. We can only hope there won't be a sequel.

"The Saint" had tremendous potential. Despite business insensibility, Kilmer can be a very deft actor. Director Phillip Noyce made "Dead Calm," a minimalist dread-full masterpiece with Nicole Kidman, and even brought wit and tension to the cut-and-dry morality of "Patriot Games."

The basic driving force of the character is that he is in conflict with himself - that since he has to change identity so often he has no time to find out who he really is.


The actor, director and narrative premise should have made for a sly, suspenseful psychological thriller. Somewhere between the drawing board and the silver screen, however, something went very wrong.

"The Saint" is one terrible mess of a movie with not an ounce of coherence, and it is only mildly entertaining as a cheese-fest. You know something is bad when you spend the better part of the movie just counting the plot-holes. Like: Simon's first theft is performed against a supposedly slimy Russia politico (Rade Serbedzija), but the next scene he is e-mailing him to get the scoop on his next job. Huh? Then the rest of the movie Simon spends his time running from the guy's henchmen, including his ugly, annoying son.

There is the whole suspension-of-disbelief thing, but "The Saint" is so careless in its preposterousness, that it no longer becomes a matter of suspending disbelief but tolerating ridiculousness.

I know that every one of these James Bond knockoffs has to have a girl for the romantic interest factor. But does an actress of Elisabeth Shue's caliber need to be squandered in the thankless role of Emma, a slightly aloof girl who, oh, just happens to know how that cold fusion thing works? Do Emma and Simon need to run into a woman-in-beret in an underground tunnel who is an art-dealer/embassy worker? Is "The Saint" the worst movie so far in this year of really bad movies? The answers: No, no, and absolutely.

Noyce's direction is a laughing-stock of no-control, no-thought spectacle. Let's forget for a moment that "The Saint" lacks focus and dramatic interest (if the bad guys aren't bad, and they don't get killed, what's the point of these blow-'em-up pictures? If the main character of a movie is so confused that we don't know or care who he is, how can he be a hero?) I disliked the movie simply for its lack of visual professionalism. The camera keeps jamming up into the actor's faces, and I really have better things to do than stare at every pore on Val Kilmer's face for two hours (though I'm sure women will much enjoy this.)

Kilmer can redeem mediocre movies ("Tombstone") but he can't save awful ones ( "Batman Forever," "Island of Dr. Moreau,") and in "The Saint," despite the fact that he claims he fell in love with the part, his acting consists of little more than weak transitions between ineffective, muddy accents as Simon changes saints.

Martin Blank (John Cusack) has the same identity-angst as Simon, but he happens to be in a much more enjoyable, mirthful movie, "Grosse Pointe Blank."

The film is about Blank, a professional hitman who returns to his hometown of Grosse Pointe for his 10-year high school reunion, only to find his friends stuck in their dead-end (no pun intended) lives, and his childhood home replaced (for a while) by a convenience store. "Blank," co-written by Cusack, Tom Jankiewicz, Steve Pink and D.V. DeVincentis, is a clever, hip, deadpan-funny look at the popular culture we live in. Usually when several writers collaborate it is not a good thing - see the several screenwriting credits for "The Saint" - but here the pens got down words with fluidity and zing.

"Blank" doesn't function in a conventional, constant-adrenaline momentum found in most movies. Then again, Cusack is an atypical actor: He doesn't have any one strong-suit; he's good at a lot of little things. He also has the impeccable comic timing to carry-off the film. It is a charmingly offbeat, low-key film that manages to say a good deal about the post-modern, post-nuclear condition, despite, or maybe because of, its subtlety.

"The Saint" No Popcorn Bags. "Grosse Pointe Blank 3 1/2 Popcorn Bags.

Jason is a junior at North Hagerstown High School.

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