This film attempts to remake and update Leslie Charteris’ character of Simon Templar (aka: The Saint.) In this modern setting, the Saint is still a criminal who hasn’t gone straight and finds himself entangled in issues in post-Soviet Russia where control of energy is vital to the future and evil Communist turned evil Billionaire is planning to topple the government by obtaining the secret to cold fusion. The Saint must obtain the secret from Doctor Emma Russell (played by Elizabeth Shue).
Positives: The film does a great job with its location work, bringing to life Russia in Winter with all its cold and grittiness. Elizabeth Shue’s character is pretty well-crafted, cutting against the grain of stereotypical scientists who are cold and lifeless and she’s longing for something deeper and is hungry for philosophy, truth, and beauty.
Kudos to whoever did Val Kilmer’s make up. In this version, Simon Templar is a master of disguise and it seems plausible that he could pull it off with how different he looks in each disguise and Kilmer’s dialects are masterful.
Negatives: We can start with spending the first six minutes of the movie gratuitously showing Simon being beaten by a stereotypically overbearing priest for refusing to accept the name chosen for him as he was left at the orphanage as a nameless orphan. Will Hollywood decide this cliche is ever overdone?
In the film’s second and third acts, the best it can really manage is typical action slock which is not bad but not really good either. Plus the ending drags out through senseless decompression after the resolution.
I also have to say that the film’s understanding of science is dumbfounding. The formula obtained for cold fusion is incomplete, but all our heroine needs is two hours in a room without computers or anything to wrap it up. But hey, it’s an action film.
The film’s biggest flaw goes back to Templar. The character just isn’t likable. In fact, we rarely understand why he does anything. He wants to get $50 million in his bank account to retire…why? Why $50 million? And why does he want to quit? Is he wanting to stay out of jails? Does he not like what he does and feels on some level its wrong? It’s never explained.
Part of this is Kilmer who lacks any charm or charisma that actors like George Sanders or Roger Moore brought to the role. There’s no swagger in Kilmer’s Saint until the end by which point its too late. There’s no sense of fun. It’s just a guy doing a job and wanting to make money.
The other thing is the way the film was written makes the character hard to like and it’s the way he seduces vulnerable women and uses them for his own ends. First, it’s a passenger on the plane who just found out her husband is cheating on her and then Doctor Russell, a lonely eccentric romantic longing for something deeper. This is contrary to the original Saint films and TV shows, that while roguish, always fought on the side of angels, and left you with the impression that no innocent person had been hurt.
It would have taken magnificent performance to make such a character likable and Kilmer’s mediocre performance just doesn’t do it.
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