The Saint review

No sooner had he leapt nimbly off the lucrative Batbandwagon than the juicy-lipped Kilmer signed up for this big-budget makeover of another '30s pulp hero - star of books, movies and a classic '60s telly show. Da dadadada da daaa...

Writers Hensleigh (The Rock, Die Hard With A Vengeance) and Strick (Wolf, Cape Fear) have darkened and de-Anglicised creator Leslie Charteris' concept of a modern-day Robin Hood serving truth and justice from the wrong side of the law. Fleshing out the Singapore-born former bullfighter's creation as only Hollywood can, The Saint opens with a portentous pre-credits origin sequence detailing Templar's boyhood in a Far East orphanage. Beaten senseless by the priests responsible for his upbringing, the boy-who-will-be-Kilmer grows into an identity-challenged man of a thousand faces, naming each one of his assumed guises after a different Catholic saint.

This concept (suggested by Kilmer himself) is a good one, and The Saint kicks off at a fair old pace, our hero cheerfully forgetting the oven-baked restrictions of the Batsuit and camping it up in a variety of wigs, teeth and false noses. Even better, he in-jokily dons a black Spiderman outfit and scales the walls of a Moscow government building, performing a high-tech Mission: Impossible-style burglary to the booming strains of Graeme Revell's powerful score.

But that's about it for the good stuff. Half an hour in, Templar meets Shue's simpering Dr Russell and everything goes perfectly pear-shaped, the haloed one assuming the role of a South African poet to pluck the doctor-cum-love-interest's heartstrings. At which point Kilmer indulges in some of the most embarrassing pouting, smouldering and all-round "making an arse of yourself" ever committed to celluloid. Although this film-stopping miscalculation doesn't go on for ever, every moment is pure, unbridled agony, and The Saint never recovers from it.

The bad guys aren't up to much either - Serbedzija&Nikolaev play the dastardly Tretiaks, a father/son tag team of Russian mafiosi who engage in the kind of vowel-strangling eastern bloc bombast not seen since Chuck Norris' tripey cold war freakouts (Delta Force, Invasion USA et al). Croatian star Serbedzija falls way short of the mark as the disastrously mulleted patriarch, bullying his quivering underlings like a bargain-basement Ivan the Terrible.

Even worse, Ms Shue - after the quantum leap in performance quality that saw her nominated for an Oscar with Leaving Las Vegas - returns to her bland, potato-faced best as the weak-hearted doctor, offering up a heap of schoolgirlish mush rather than the supposed woman of integrity who sets her stickman on the straight and narrow. Only Brit Alun Armstrong (Braveheart, An Awfully Big Adventure), saddled with minimal screen time as the protagonist's curmudgeonly nemesis Inspector Teal, mounts an effective challenge to Kilmer's toothy charm, hamming it up in true "gruff Northern copper" fashion.

Director Philip Noyce's efforts to recover from a flabby mid-section and get the devil-may-care heroics back on course are peculiarly muted; he all but wastes Phil Meheux's beautiful cinematography on a bunch of well-framed but excitement-free chase sequences. By the time the heavily re-shot finale rolls around, Dr Russell's cardiac problems have vanished without explanation, and all concerned are clearly at a loss what to do. The movie lumbers on and on, throwing up a number of mini-epilogues before finally petering out.

The Saint may be a tolerable two hours, enhanced by Kilmer's multiple roleplay and Orbital's snappy update of the TV theme tune, but the end result is flatly disappointing. A victim of screen-test tinkering? Or a property no-one knew how to treat? Whatever, it's a film that should have been much better. Those proposed sequels now look hugely unlikely.

Kilmer is ideally cast as the supersmooth gentleman thief, but his initial cat-burgling, disguise-switching antics are the best thing about this otherwise flat '90s revamp. If you're expecting pace, punch-ups and something resembling a climax, you'd be better off tuning into the Roger Moore reruns.

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