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The Saint Review

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Simon Templar stays one step ahead of the law, outswindling gangsters, protecting the good guys and charming beautiful women all over the globe

★★★★★

Despite jumping from the Batman bandwagon for the alluring potential of this bright new action-hero franchise, alternate identity and disguise remain the order of the day for Val Kilmer - albeit from the Mr. Potato Head school of stick-on specs, sidies and other assorted facial furniture - in the shoes of arch-thief Simon Templar. For many, The Saint will conjure images of a stick man lobbing his halo all over the shop, the honing of open-shirted eyebrow archage - which Roger Moore would employ to considerable effect upon subsequent recruitment by MI6 - and a sleek white Volvo sports. Or, for the less lengthy of tooth, perhaps the far cooler Jaguar XJS of Moore's successor, the equally suave but rather more bland Ian Ogilvy. But this is the latest addition to the Leslie Charteris canon: Kilmer's stab at the author's meddling, larcenous smoothie, under the guidance of Patriot Games/Clear And Present Danger director Philip Noyce.

Lurking behind costume, wig and various European accents, Templar's time is spent half-inching miscellaneous items and thwarting impossible security systems, and pricing such skills well into the six-figure bracket in the search of a retirement goal of 50 big ones. And that may finally be in sight with the fee from the Russian billionaire and would-be dictator Ivan Tretiak (Serbedzija), who needs to jolly-up a revolting population caught in the deadly grip of a deep freeze and drastic fuel shortage. The solution in this near-future set world (tantalisingly heralded by the early caption "Red Square, Moscow - tomorrow") appears to be some vague, chemical test-tubery called Cold Fusion, a sort of pocket-sized nuclear reactor, minus the fall-out hazard.

Tretiak commissions Templar to nick the formula from the visionary Dr. Emma Russell, and here's where things assume the outline of pear. Because she looks like Elisabeth Shue, and for the first time, Templar's coolly detached head is receiving stern argument from first his trousers, then his ribcage. All of which means the woman whose discovery could transform the global economy may also be the catalyst for his own personal redemption.

In their tricky blend of love story and international theft caper, Noyce and Die Hard With A Vengeance screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh's decision to flesh out the Saint's childhood origins (which Charteris never touched in over 50 novels) carries an unfortunate side-effect. The need to race the plot from flashback explanation to Templar's light-fingered prowess in the Bondian infiltration of tightly defended Russkie buildings, before arriving at the emotional quandary of Dr. Russell, merely establishes the disjointed and episodic format which carries through the film in a staccato of (admittedly well-choreographed) scenes delivered at jarring speed.

Indeed, it seems that in every department, quality is hampered by shortfall. Serbedzija and Valery Nikolaev (as Tretiak's fiery son) both look the part, but dubious dialogue often reduces them to frothing Muscovite megalomaniacs; shooting in Red Square is impressive, but the bizarre tunnel underworld beneath the Kremlin tests even the most elastic credibility; and even Kilmer's plethora of disguises, while studied, inventive and amusing, have a whiff of pantomime about them. There's no lack of style or pace from Noyce, just the sense that it isn't quite gelling together.

Kilmer will inevitably come under toothcomb scrutiny after the whole The Island Of Dr. Moreau/divorce/supermodel/divorce/downright stroppy bugger reportage of late, but the truth is - like The Ghost And The Darkness - although questions may hang over the movie's storyline and basic construction, his strident, leading-man presence is beyond debate.

There's no lack of style or pace from Noyce, just the sense that it isn't quite gelling together.