The title "Man on Fire" refers to the character played by Denzel Washington in this kidnapping/revenge thriller. Of course, it could also be used to refer to the fiery performance Washington gives, which is, at times, the only thing holding the film together.
That's because the movie sometimes feels as if it's at odds with itself. The first hour or so is heavily dramatic and character-based, while the second hour turns into an R-rated action thriller, with some preposterous twists that strain credibility.
It's surprising that the film is much more effective in its dramatic moments, given that it comes from director Tony Scott, who's best-known for action-thrillers, such as "Crimson Tide." In fact, when the film finally does become a revenge picture, you can't help but be a little disappointed.
On the plus side, there is Washington as John Creasy, a burned-out former CIA operative who's basically given up on life. This alcoholic, suicidal wreck of a man finds himself in Mexico City, where he's become a bodyguard to Pita Ramos (Dakota Fanning), the young daughter of a wealthy businessman (pop singer Mark Anthony).
Creasy's doing his best to keep to himself, but the precocious youngster has ideas about befriending him and drawing him out of his shell. As you might expect, the girl gets her way, which further complicates things when she's kidnapped and he's shot up and left for dead. Worse, while Creasy is recovering a planned ransom exchange goes awry, resulting in more than one fatality.
Needless to say, Creasy takes it all personally and decides to go after the people responsible despite evidence that corrupt police and governmental officials may be involved.
As director, Scott undermines much of the action with his customary, attention-deficit quick-cut style, which makes the action an unintelligible blur. Fortunately, the cast helps bail him out.
Obviously, this is Washington's show, and his scenes with Fanning and Christopher Walken, who plays one of Creasy's former CIA cohorts, are among the film's best. (And neither Fanning nor Walken are nearly as creepy as they have been in other films.)
"Man on Fire" is rated R for action violence (shootings, some vehicular violence and explosive mayhem), occasional use of strong profanity, some graphic gore, scenes of torture, some flatulence humor, brief sexual contact, and use of crude slang terms and racial epithets. Running time: 146 minutes.