Having gone from "Batman" to "The Saint," Val Kilmer has traded in his cowl for a series of disguises and funny accents. Bad idea.
"The Saint" is a weak attempt by director Phillip Noyce ("Clear and Present Danger," "Patriot Games") to come up with a new franchise hero, in this case a thief whose goal is to earn $50 million, until he finds love and has a change of heart.
But cardboard characters and a plot that becomes more ludicrous as it goes along make it less than satisfying.
The film opens with a disturbing prologue, as a young orphaned boy is mistreated in a Catholic school, and his rebellion inadvertently leads to the death of a young girl he cares for.
In a unique transition from past to present, special effects are used to morph the face of the boy into Kilmer's face, as his character awakens from a bad dream. He is Simon Templar, a thief who uses computers and electronic gadgets (including a pocket blow torch) to steal things for the highest bidder. He's done pretty well for himself and he's quite close to that $50 million goal.
Set in the near future, the film's central plot has Simon being hired by Ivan Tretiak (Rade Serbedzija) a corrupt billionaire oil magnate who has designs on becoming a new Russian czar. To set his plan into motion, he has forced a shortage of heating oil, which has left much of the country in the cold. And now, with people dying in their homes, the country is ripe for revolution.
He hires Simon to steal a scientific formula from an American scientist named Emma Russell (Elisabeth Shue). The formula solves the cold fusion dilemma and provides a way for it to be used as a viable energy source. So, Simon breaks into her home and goes through her things to discover how he can disguise himself as the man of her dreams. Then he wins her over quite quickly but unexpectedly finds himself falling in love. (In a bit of chauvinistic directing, Noyce has Emma sigh and smile sheepishly whenever she is in Simon's presence, no matter how badly he treats her.)
Soon, they find themselves in Russia, trying to outrun Tretiak's goons, who are led by his son, Ilya (Valery Nikolaev), a cane-wielding sadist. The bulk of the action is set in Moscow, with a number of big action sequences.
Written by Jonathan Hensleigh ("The Rock," "Die Hard With a Vengeance") and Wesley Strick ("Final Analysis," "Cape Fear"), "The Saint" suffers from some of the same plot inconsistencies, lapses in logic and outrageous stunts as their other films. But there's no wit at work here, and most of the one-liners are tired sexual double-entendres.
The treat-the-audience-like-idiots mentality reaches its zenith when Simon hides under a nearly frozen lake and afterward is suffering from hypothermia. Emma takes him into a cold building, takes off her blouse and lies on top of him for about three minutes. A moment later, Simon is running around like nothing happened.
This sort of silliness might be acceptable if the rest of the film were
more engaging. But here, it just feels dumb.
Kilmer gives it the old college try and he's game for whatever getups are provided for him even a Mrs. Doubtfire outfit when he pretends to be a maid! But it never seems like anything more than a gimmicky conceit. (Occasionally, he made me think of Peter Sellers in the later "Pink Panther" films.)
"The Saint" is taken from the character who starred in a series of novels by Leslie Charteris, which were adapted for a series of movies in the '30s and '40s and a '60s TV series (with Roger Moore). But the source material is virtually ignored as the debonair English Robin Hood-style thief/detective becomes a self-centered, high-rolling criminal.
In fact, this movie owes more to the James Bond movies crossed with those glossy caper pictures of the '60s ("Gambit," "Topkapi," "How to Steal a Million") than "The Saint." Which may explain why Charteris' name is nowhere to be seen in the credits.
"The Saint" is rated PG-13 for quite a bit of violence, as well as sex and profanity.