Wednesday, July 2, 1997

The Saint

Posted By on Wed, Jul 2, 1997 at 12:00 AM

The realpolitik of the "new" Russia, as orchestrated by ex-cadres turned freewheeling millionaire capitalists, seems well suited to the talents of one Simon Templar, aka The Saint, venerable spy-for-hire last seen in the late '60s on the telly. Oily lothario Roger Moore parlayed his stint as Templar into an extended gig as the Big Daddy of spies, James Bond.

As they say, the devil is the details. And The Saint, the movie, has got them covered -- good script, great casting and a savvy director familiar to the genre. Val Kilmer stars as Templar, roaming the world stealing secrets and codes for the highest bidder. Along comes Ivan Tretiak (Rabe Serbedzija), a nefarious and charismatic entrepreneur interested in securing the formula for cold fusion. He and his son Ilya (Valery Nikolaev) plan to take over Russia in a master stroke of demagoguery by offering the people a "miracle" solution to an energy crisis. The only problem is that the formula belongs to Dr. Emma Russell (Elisabeth Shue), a dozy genius partial to the poetry of Shelley and the high ideals of humanitarianism. Thus our hero is torn between the big money and the blond honey.

Director Phillip Noyce (Dead Calm) keeps the rails well-greased, even when the plot detours into an extended romantic interlude that could easily bog down a lesser talent. It's a shame, really, that Noyce's quiet efficiency is often sabotaged by Graeme Ravell, who provides a rackety, hyperactive score that refuses to slow down or shut up.

If the film has a fatal flaw it is with the leads. The villains are absolutely splendid, and by the middle of the film one begins to wish they were the main focus. Kilmer does a reasonable job with Templar, nicely articulating the irony of a master of disguise with no real sense of identity. His cool detachment is less affectation than it is a deficiency of love.

Shue has nothing to offer her role other than some ditzy mannerisms and a bobby-soxer innocence that is entirely unbelievable. Without a strong romantic foil to draw him out, Kilmer's Templar remains an emotionless cipher. And when the plot sputters out near the conclusion, the halo of The Saint is riding around its hips like a Hula-Hoop.

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