Directed by Phillip Noyce. Starring Val Kilmer, Elizabeth Shue, Rade Serbedzija, Valery Nikolaev. (1997, PG-13, 118 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., April 4, 1997
This Nineties version of The Saint continues the legend's evolution from the Leslie Charteris novels first published in the late Twenties to the Hollywood series of films that starred, most notably, George Sanders and also the long-running British television show that starred a pre-Bond Roger Moore. The Saint is the kind of throwback pulp thriller Mission: Impossible longed to be but never quite achieved. It's the story of Simon Templar (Kilmer), a dashing international thief, equally handy with the ladies as he is with breaking and entering artfully secured foreign embassies. He's also a master of disguise, able to conceal his identity from friend and foe alike, and it's this trait that has saved his skin time and time again. Reared as an orphan in the “Far East,” Templar takes his name and various aliases from Catholic saints, hence his… well, you get the idea. When Templar accepts an offer from a power-crazed Russian madman (I know, I know -- is there any other kind?) to steal the newly minted formula for a working cold-fusion process from its creator -- the vivacious Emma Russell (Shue) -- he finds himself taking on more than he bargained for. Granted, that's usually the case when contracting oneself out to psychotic world leaders, but this time is even worse than usual. Along the way, Templar finds time to fall in love with a reciprocating Russell, whom he now must protect from the evil Ivan Tretiak (Serbedzija), Russia's new answer to the Stalin of old. Director Noyce has a sure hand with the action sequences and keeps The Saint from bogging down too often in the mires of action film exposition (once again, think Mission: Impossible). Certainly, this is no think-piece; it's even a notch of two down the evolutionary ladder from Noyce's previous actioners, Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger. Still, The Saint manages to charm with its ingenious use of last-minute rescues and old-school romanticism. It's Fleming sans 007, awash in wild heroics and world-weary leading men. Kilmer, for his part, does an admirable job, rising with wry aplomb to an admittedly clichéd situation: Templar's cynical barbs are delivered with nary a trace of irony, though Shue as the pioneer of cold-fusion does tend to stretch things a bit. There are other shortcomings in The Saint, most of which have to do with the plot and various elements which appear to have been excised in toto, but for all that it's still a remarkably likable thriller. Neither as darkly serious as Burton's Batman, nor as juvenile and rambunctious as last year's Billy Zane vehicle The Phantom (with which The Saint shares much in common), it instead falls somewhere in the middle; the tough, cynical romantic outsider, sans tights.