PLOT: Two competitive women at an advertising agency engage in a rivalry that spirals out of control into murder. But there's more than meets the eye.
REVIEW: PASSION flirts with being watchable trash in the classic Brian De Palma mold, but it is lacking in one crucial thing: actual passion. Instead of the go-for-broke cocktail of sleaze and craziness that make some of his films such guilty pleasures - I'm thinking DRESSED TO KILL, BODY DOUBLE and RAISING CAIN - this new effort wallows in a decidedly uninvolved cat-and-mouse game between two unlikable protagonists. The director sometimes seems on the cusp of drawing us in with a sequence of lusty depravity or provocative backstabbing, but he never manages to truly get PASSION humming. It comes up limp, if we're being suggestive.
PASSION is based on a 2010 noir called LOVE CRIME, which is apparently a considerably sexier and intriguing thriller. The story gives De Palma plenty of opportunities to roll around in his favorite fetishes: sexy, dangerous women, murder, double-crosses and other Hitchcock staples. The focus is on the contentious working relationship between ad agency exec Christine (Rachel McAdams), a sultry, backbiting icy blonde, and her timid underling Isabelle. At first, the two look like the best of friends, working closely together on a potentially lucrative new project; in fact, Christine appears to have her eye on Isabelle in more than one way, showing none-too-subtle interest in her co-worker. Isabelle, who initially appears to be a bit of a cold fish, concentrates on the work and her status within the company. Neither woman knows just how ambitious and sordid the other one actually is. Or do they?
For at least its first half, PASSION is a tepid De Palma blend of soap opera and slow burn psychological thriller, with sleek images of women kissing, high heels, S&M masks, etc. It's acceptable melodrama, if only because it's fun seeing McAdams play the femme fatale role with clear enthusiasm, but this cat-and-mouse game between her and Rapace is not particularly compelling or arousing. The film hesitates to go full bore into the naughty-obsessive direction it continuously hints at, which would liven things up. Instead, there is a lot of office politicking that is frankly uninteresting.
The film's second half goes completely off the rails, maybe around the point someone mentions a "twin sister," which always raises a red flag. (I literally wrote "twin sister - uh-oh" on my note pad.) After a character is murdered (or were they?!), we follow the subsequent police investigation, which dulls any of the lurid intrigue the movie had managed to work up. There are also several false endings, and as a result PASSION begins to feel quite overlong even though it's approximately 100 minutes. Even more of a downer: De Palma attempts to fake us out with "was it all a dream?" moments that are completely unnecessary, not to mention unwanted.
In this third act, as can be counted upon, the director begins to unleash his more irritating film school proclivities: the split screen sequence accompanied by overbearing music, the extended POV sequence, the VERTIGO reference, the cheap jump scare at the end. You have to hand it to him, he is still stubbornly refusing to move beyond his Hitchcock infatuation - I mean, this man is 72-years-old and he's still ripping off VERTIGO!
McAdams deserves a lot of credit for sinking her teeth into her loopy corporate bitch role; the actress purrs and coos around like a call girl in a business suit, looking most of the time like she's about to rip off her clothes and those of anyone else in the room. Rapace, however, is stiff and awkward; there should be palpable sexual tension between the two, and McAdams tries like hell, but it just never sizzles. Perhaps it's that Rapace thinks she's participating in a more serious endeavor instead of a tawdry B-movie; she looks so uncomfortable sometimes that you end up feeling sorry for her and wishing she could be replaced. (And this being a De Palma movie, he probably could have done that without explanation.)
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