Have A Heart, Hit Man

THE FRENCH ESTABLISHMENT IS ALways bellyaching about how their arts are being corrupted by American pop culture. They even pass laws against it. Well, it works both ways. With The Professional, his first American movie, French director Luc Besson dishes out some corruption of his own. French film makers have always loved to make versions of American gangster flicks, their own pate de noir gras, so to speak. But that symbiosis reaches decadence in "The Professional," with its flashy technique, emotional hollowness and intellectual pretentiousness. Besson, 35, got his Hollywood shot on the basis of his 1990 international hit, "La Femme Nikita" (remade by John Badham as "Point of No Return"). His antihero "professional" is Leon (Jean Reno), a hit man who becomes the reluctant custodian oft 12-year-old girl, Mathilda (Natalie Portman), when her family is massacred by a gang led by crooked DEA agent Stansfield (Gary Oldman).

"The Professional" is a mad Franco-American melange. Leon is a recycling of the old French existential gangster, a morose killer who lives alone, sports shades and a stubble, drinks milk, can't read or write and loves only his houseplant. Old-man is a sadistic psycho who scarfs poppers before he kills (recalling Dennis Hopper in "Blue Velvet"). Guns bang symphonically, blood flows torrentially, Reno underacts Frenchily and Oldman overacts like James Woods afflicted by rabies. And Besson's manipulation of newcomer Portman approaches kiddie porn. See huge close-ups of her precociously beautiful face, esthetically bruised and bloodied. Glom her in a T shirt, provocatively poked by her budding breasts. Watch her shot from above on abed. legs akimbo like a mini-Sharon Stone. Of course love (fatherly--uh, yeah) for little Natalie redeems the hit man. Mais naturellement. But Portman's real folks should be cares that their cameragenie daughter isn't turned into a new Linda Blair. "The Professional" is the pseudo-thinking man's "Pulp Fiction." Where Quentin Tarantino's movie is cool, complex, original, Besson's is vicious, sentimental, counterfeit.

Have A Heart, Hit Man | News