As a young lad of 16 years, I went through a lot of trouble to seek out Sharon Stone. At the time, she was the reigning queen of the Erotic Thriller ilk, her hand maidens the likes of Shannon Tweed and Kari Wuhrer. Getting a copy of Basic Instinct and actually SEEING it was almost a right of passage for female deprived boys of my era. Though I didn’t really notice it at the time, Basic Instinct, unlike Director Brian De Palma’s latest, Femme Fatale, actually had something more to offer than gratuitous nudity.
Laure (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) is every bit as bad as the film’s title. Mixed up with a gang of thieves, she helps them pull off the most erotic diamond heist I’ve ever seen. Using her feminine wiles, she entangles herself further into the lives of others, using them and casting them aside when and where it suits her. Yet somewhere in there she’s trying to straighten out her life, even as her femme fatale past comes back to haunt her.
The real question is, can Rebecca Romijn-Stamos carry a role in which she’s required to REALLY act. Oh sure, she oozes sex and eroticism from every pore, but that’s not acting, she’d do that standing next to the slurpee machine at her local 7-Eleven. Whether or not she can act it seems remains an unanswered question, as De Palma seems to go out of his way to keep her quiet and infinitely stoic. Certainly what few scenes of emotion she’s given don’t totally fall to pieces. Her dialogue, few lines though she really has, isn’t particularly dodgy, though neither is her delivery all that impressive. But for an erotic thriller perhaps sexual tension is more important than anything else. For a sex cat like Rebecca, that sort of thing just comes naturally.
Thus armed with her god-given physical talents, Romijn-Stamos strides through the film like it’s a mysterious runway, casting sex and lace panties from once scene to the next with De Palma clearly enjoying his opportunity to play with our heads. As Laure becomes involved with Nicolas (Antonio Banderas), things only get stranger as it becomes nearly impossible to wrap your head around what’s really going on. Banderas at least does a capable job. No attempt to keep him from acting. Worth watching just to see him dance about like a gay marionette as he attempts to worm his way through the tangled web of Laure’s deception. Banderas really should play more flamboyant characters; the few brief moments he spends at it here actually seem to suit him.
As you’d expect from any De Palma film, Femme Fatale goes nowhere you’d expect it to and gets there in the least likely way possible. His distinctive style comes down almost heavy handed in this flick, with De Palma himself seeming almost unsure of exactly how far to take it. Visually the film is eye-catching, but more for the women he’s cast in it, than for anything he himself has done with the camera. Much of it seems confusing actually, though it all comes together in the end, there’s a note of mid-movie frustration with the thing as you find yourself wading through it without a clue as to where your going or even where you’ve been.
As far as erotic thrillers go, Femme Fatale is capable enough to hit the right erotic notes at all the right times. Yet the mystery in which it wraps itself only feels foggy and disconnected with only a throw away at the end to give it a note of sense. Still, Romijn-Stamos drinks sexual sweat in with every breath, which perhaps was De Palma’s plan to keep us from really noticing anything else. Boy did he ever get the erotic right, but unlike the hallowed thriller classics of Sharon Stone’s filmography, it doesn’t deliver enough depth to really say anything else.