After briefly trying on the cowl of the caped crusader, Val Kilmer
has found a role that's an even better fit for his blend of charisma and
cockiness--master thief The Saint. It's too bad the rest of Phillip Noyce's
big budget update of the Leslie Charteris character is so mediocre that
future adventures seem far from likely.
Kilmer perfectly embodies Simon Templar, an ace thief, master of
disguise, and all-around rogue who uses his charms and quick wit to ensnare
any woman for his personal gain. For the first time, Simon reaches a crisis
of conscience when he develops genuine feelings for scientist Dr. Emma
Russell (Elisabeth Shue), who holds the commodity which he has been hired by
a mafia-affiliated Russian billionaire (Rade Serbedzija) to steal--a working
formula for cold fusion.
Kilmer has a perfect grasp on the character, pulling off convincing
accents in his different guises (the fairly plain makeup work, however, does
leave something to be desired), and keeping a great sense of humor
throughout. Simon is not only good at what he does, but he has a lot of fun
doing it. On the other side of the token, there's the completely miscast
Shue. Emma is supposed to be kooky yet so brilliant as to perfect a formula
that many scientists have been trying to discover for years. We first meet
Emma when she lectures a class on cold fusion. The scene is absolutely
crucial to establishing the credibility of the character, and Shue blows it.
She plays up the character's quirks and nervous foibles, and any hint of
real intelligence is lost in the process. Instead of being brilliant yet
kooky, Emma is just kooky--kooky and vacuous.
The character of Emma also gets short shrift from screenwriters
Jonathan Hensleigh and Wesley Strick. One of Emma's key defining traits is
a heart ailment she's had since childhood, and early on a lot is made of her
need for medication. But lo and behold, act three rolls around and suddenly
Emma's heart condition is written off in a single line of dialogue.
Hensleigh and Strick also don't give any convincing reasons as to why Simon
would feel any differently about Emma than any of the other women he's used.
The implication is that Emma "understands" the real Simon, but their
relationship isn't developed thoroughly enough to make that clear.
The lackluster romance shouldn't come as too big a surprise, since
The Saint is directed by Noyce, a skilled craftsman whose work, most
recently the Jack Ryan films Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger and
the voyeuristic thriller Sliver, is characterized by their technical
achievement and emotional chilliness. Noyce creates a number of exciting
and suspenseful moments, in particular an extended chase midway, and the
film is visually enthralling. But with the "heart" of the picture, the
romance between Simon and Emma, so unconvincing, it's easy to just be
superficially interested in the picture without really caring about the
Simon Templar is an interesting character with infinite promise as
the protagonist in a series of films, and Val Kilmer is the perfect man for
the job, but based on this unexceptional initial outing, Kilmer may soon
regret giving up his Batman meal ticket.