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MOVIE REVIEW: 'Dead Man Down' a letdown from Swedish 'Dragon Tattoo' team

Dead Man Down

(R)

2 stars out of 4

After the runaway international success of the first version of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," it was inevitable that Swedish director Niels Arden Oplev would get drafted by someone high up on the U.S. film industry food chain to make an English-language feature.

This new action thriller reunites Oplev with Noomi Rapace, the lead actress from "Tattoo," and even the most forgiving fans of both of them and that film will consider this effort to be a colossal disappointment. While something of a stretch thematically, Oplev essentially employs the same dismal tone and dingy color palette.

"Dead Man Down" is also bogged down by countless and threadworm mob cliches, atrocious cinematography, a slogging pace and a plot that is far too convoluted for its own good. Leaving the gate at a snail's pace, it takes far too long to start doling out the measly twists, and ties most of them together during a rushed ending.

Having pretty much failed to deliver on the promise hinted at in the 2000 "Tigerland," Colin Farrell -- now the world's highest-paid B-list actor -- in is the lead as Victor, a mid-level enforcer working for slippery New York crime boss Alphonse (Terrence Howard).

In the opening scene, Alphonse receives -- through the clenched fist and mouth of a frozen dead employee -- two more pieces of a photographic puzzle showing a man, woman and child. By his reaction we get the feeling this has been going on for some time and Alphonse is not alone. The same thing is happening to Ilir (James Biberi), Alphonse's Hungarian rival. Each man thinks it's the other trying to get into his head.

This cat-and-mouse, rival-gang thing -- borrowing a bunch from "The Departed" -- would have been quite enough and ripe for further exploration. But as soon as it starts to fan out and show promise, writer J.H. Wyman ("The Mexican") puts the mob stuff on the back burner for a while and essentially starts what is another film.

Victor lives in a high-rise apartment across a courtyard from Beatrice (Rapace), who dresses skimpily while smoking on her balcony in a clear attempt to catch his attention. With some nasty fresh scars covering half of her face, Beatrice is now dubbed "monster" by a pack of insensitive local kids but seems intent on getting on with her life. Having recently gone through a devastating event that left him with untold internal scars, Victor seems to be a natural fit for Beatrice, and their first "date" goes as well as one between two such wounded souls could.

At their next meeting, Beatrice drops a bomb on Victor that shows that her interest in him is only in what he can do for her -- and he has no choice but to accommodate her. At this point, whatever sympathy we've amassed for Beatrice evaporates while something like it for Victor grows.

After far too much meaningless exposition that takes up two thirds of the film, Wyman and Oplev turn up the pace to 11 and transform "Dead Man Down" into just another rote, harried and stale bloodbath revenge thriller. While doing so, they are sure to stick close to the most tried, tired and true of all shoot-out staples: the protagonist dodges sheets of automatic gunfire without being hit once while mowing down every guy -- two dozen or so -- shooting at him. Even worse is the mano-y-mano final confrontation between Alphonse and Ilir, an unintentionally laughable bit of nonsense that plays out like ill-conceived parody.

For those who have already seen the superb trailer that includes an even more superb cover of the Pink Floyd song "Shine on You Crazy Diamond," take note: that song appears nowhere in the film and everything shown is culled from the final third of the film. To say it misrepresents the film would be an obvious understatement. Save yourself some bucks and two hours of your life and go see something else -- anything else -- this weekend besides this. (FilmDistrict)