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Super Bitches and Action Babes:
The Female Hero in Popular Cinema, 1970-2006
by Rikke Schubart
(In Paperback from Amazon)
. "Boarding Gate"

I'm so enamored of Asia Argento after watching those full, pouty lips, that I'm willing to give her a wide berth in the acting department. Not so, however, for writer-director Olivier Assayas ("Demonlover") whose creative disposition leads him once again to the sexual element as a tool of business, scruples be damned. It's a place few of us have seen or experienced outside of fictional media but we may suspect that such manipulation exists in some form that approximates Assayas' thriller visions of greed, sub-rosa legalities and personal control. In any event, it makes for a good yarn.

Trouble is, he shows it to us in an unsteady way, with a script that's badly in need of a rewrite or two.

With no preparation, we're into a scene of tension between Italian sexpot Sandra (Argento) and ex-financier Miles Rennberg (Michael Madsen), her onetime lover and employer. We learn a lot from her here... how he used her to seduce people he was negotiating with in order to extract pillow talk that could be of enormous stretegic usefulness to him; graphic descriptions of the sex that drove their relationship; and the obsession she's always had for him. Now, she seems undecided about resuming it, taunting him with their old, comfortable carnality. She's not a woman a healthy man can easily turn down.

She tells him the only reason she's there is to return his keys. Right. So why is she spreading her legs and touching herself from across the room? Does she want one more tryst, or does she just want to torment him and see what he does or says about it? This seductive vixen knows the effect she has on men and, certainly, on this one. She plays him like a banjo, and intensifies the tease by recalling what she used to do to him.

He, of course, has his pride, and his memories of the control he once exerted upon her, which seems to be restraining him from outright jumping her. But the arousal is certain, and thoughts of one last roll in the sack rules the game-playing conversation.

It just ain't happening. The babe has payback on her mind and breaking his balls is the agenda. She also wants to make sure she's really over him. Options are being weighed. But, yet, the looseness of the dialogue suggests that Assayas had some indecision, too, and you can't help wondering if, as he was writing this scene, he hadn't yet decided which way her feelings and loyalties were going to go. Finally, Sandra leaves Miles with his keys and his frustration. But, these two will have another encounter, one that will feature some S&M and be far more decisive about loyalties.

Sandra's movements are one the story follows, almost voyeuristically, like little boys looking through a fence to catch an eyeful of an undressed woman for the first time. Assayas sees to it that she's on screen in almost every frame, which may be the primary payoff for the males in the audience who agree with me about Argento's powerhouse sensuality. In any case, we then learn who is currently pulling her strings. The lucky guy is Lester (Carl Ng), a none too virtuous guy.

A Hong Kong businessman partnered with very jealous Sue (Kelly Lin), Lester is an enemy of Miles, who has been setting Sandra up as a "La Femme Nikita" agent/assassin. Lester turns out to be Miles' successor in every way, and his plan for her escape to Hong Kong after a hit (she goes through a boarding gate) turns into an action/betrayal chase that showcases Argento's endurance and physicality along with the grit and reality of Hong Kong streets and alleys and the underground crime that flourishes there. But, in terms of a story that knows what it's about, its sense of incompletion in the writing doesn't add up to very much beyond hitting the right buttons for the young male demographic.

The free-floating camerawork is a bother at times and there's some pretty wild editing, as well. From this and the two or three other films I've seen Argento in ("XXX," "Land of the Dead") I'd rate her an all right actress who has yet to find the part and the director to put her on the "A" list. The rare sighting of her in American film gives her something of a rare, intriguing mystique, which I hope she can hang onto. But despite that I, for one, hope this moves her closer to that goal so that she can work that bewitching thing she has on a wider crowd of beauty geeks. Madsen works well as the physically and financially over-the-hill shaker who has lost what he once had. And a more suitable role it is for him than his embarassing workout in the Irish "Strength and Honor." Did you ever want to like a movie and wish it were better so that you could? This is that movie for me this year, and it's only March. On the other hand, you could say that any sighting of Asia Argento showing off her thighs and other physical attributes can't be all bad. In fact, she makes a weak script undeservedly fascinating and engrossing.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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