Starring: Anne Parillaud, Jean-Hugues Anglade, Tcheky Karyo
Rated R for Graphic Violence and Profanity
Action movies should get the adrenaline up, not put the viewer to sleep. Deep and complex plots are not mandatory (but provided they're well told, always appreciated), but ones that make use of their premise are. Despite giving Luc Besson the reputation of being France's answer to Jerry Bruckheimer, "La Femme Nikita" fails on both counts.
Nikita (Parillaud) is a junkie who is the sole survivor of an attempt to score drugs at a convenience store robbery. She's sentenced to life in prison for her role in the crime (in addition to her friends, three police officers were killed), but fate has something else in store for her. The French government offers her the opportunity to live as a free woman, but at the price of being an assassin for them. She agrees, and with the help of her handler (Karyo), she goes from out of control menace to being a sexy killer. But is she able live with herself as a hired killer, especially when she falls in love?
Okay, so as you can see, the concept is solid. What went wrong? Besson makes the fatal error of believing that the premise is the movie, not the jumping off point. He appears to think that the idea is able to sustain itself for two hours, which of course it can't. Once he has the idea, he doesn't know where to take Nikita or her story. Imagine, if you will, that instead of telling an actual story, "The Matrix" introduced the concept of the matrix and had Neo wander around in it for 90 minutes and occasionally get into a few fights. That's what watching "La Femme Nikia" feels like.
The acting leaves something to be desired. Lead actress Anne Parillaud displays a lot of fire and energy, but little range. In a failed attempt to give the character depth, Besson has her break down in tears at the sight of violence. It doesn't work because Parillaud isn't able to bridge the gap between "sensitive woman" and "ruthless killer." Tcheky Karyo is always nice to see, and he doesn't play a villain (well, not really) for once. Karyo has a lot of range as an actor, but he's usually pegged in the billain role. But the role is beneath him, which is a shame. The only one who gains any sympathy is Jean-Hugues Anglade, and that's because he has genuine screen presence and appeal.
I will fully admit that the action scenes are well done. They're flashy and energetic without being ostentatious. Unfortunately they take up about 10-15 minutes of screen time (the best one is a hit in Venice where Nikita is hiding in the bathroom and trying to keep an unwitting Marco away). And the stuff in-between is utter garbage.