The Saint

on April 04, 1997 by Susan Lambert
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   Val Kilmer is praying hard for a hit. He needs one, particularly after last year's boxoffice disappointments "The Ghost and the Darkness" and "The Island of Dr. Moreau." Although this problematic movie might or--more likely--might not bring Kilmer his hit, it won't be his fault if it doesn't. For the infamous Kilmer is on his best behavior here as Simon Templar, a rich, sophisticated master of disguise and thief extraordinaire.
   "The Saint," based on the popular novel series (by Leslie Charteris) that inspired a Roger Moore-starring TV show, follows the whirlwind adventures of the James Bond-like character who uses the names of Catholic saints as his aliases. In this incarnation, Templar is hired by a Russian billionaire and wannabe czar, Ivan Tretiak ("Broken English's" Rade Serbedzija, looking remarkably like director Phillip Noyce), to steal an incredible formula for cold fusion from a beautiful and hopelessly romantic scientist, Emma Russell ("Leaving Las Vegas'" Elisabeth Shue, in her most charming Catholic schoolgirl outfits). But Templar's perfect plan goes awry when the devil-may-care playboy finds himself falling for Emma. Soon the Russian gangsters, led by Tretiak's son Ilya (Valery Nikolaev), are after both of them as the Soviet Union races to the brink of another revolution.
   It's easy to see why the enigmatic Kilmer picked The Saint--given it's opportunities to mix a dashing leading man franchise with a character who gets to dress up and play-act a variety of extreme disguises--over the rubber-encrusted Batman. It was a good move. Here a chance tailor-made for the versatile actor who has of late had the most interestingly difficult times with his leading roles. The chemistry between Kilmer and Shue sparks the first part of the movie with great promise, but it fizzles under the weight of a plodding, frustrating mess disguised as a plot. The fault here lies not with the stars but with the filmmakers: writers Jonathan Hensleigh and Wesley Strick and director Noyce. The script is a mixed bag of elaborate and unnecessary pseudo-politics, intriguing ideas and mostly confusing rehashed romantic mishmash.
   Noyce has a certain flair for creating tension and inventing a lot of sound and fury, but he lacks the light touch "The Saint" so desperately requires. Noyce never successfully sustains a sense of humor about the ridiculous story, nor does he create the epic love story he's also going for--and he doesn't even come close to the political action-thriller he's also attempting. By the time Tretiak's elaborate scheme to topple the current Russian regime kicks in, the movie is lost, the lovers are spouting inane dialogue, and the cold fusion climax leaves one feeling, well, cold. Starring Val Kilmer, Elisabeth Shue and Rade Serbedzija. Directed by Phillip Noyce. Written by Jonathan Hensleigh and Wesley Strick. Produced by David Brown, Robert Evans, William J. MacDonald and Mace Neufeld. A Paramount release. Rated PG-13 for action violence, brief strong language, some sensuality and drug content. Running time: 117 min
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