'The International': Money Jungle, By Kurt Loder

Clive Owen breaks the bank.

Just when it was beginning to seem that big banks can't even run themselves, [movie id="343915"]"The International"[/movie] arrives to suggest that one such financial colossus is running the world.

It's not a far-fetched premise — the movie is rooted in the 1991 collapse of the tentacular Bank of Credit and Commerce International, a spectacularly sleazy white-collar criminal enterprise that was dedicated to weapons-smuggling, money-laundering, terrorist-financing and lucrative interactions with top mobsters and odious dictators around the world.

Unfortunately, as incarnations of evil go, a bank, no matter how big, lacks flamboyant vileness — the sleek corporate lairs in which this picture's intrigues take place are certainly chilly; they're just not creepy enough. (A similarly ominous organization — an international assassination bureau — was depicted with much more sinister panache in Alan Pakula's 1974 "The Parallax View.") The movie has the crisp style and kinetic flair you'd expect from the German director Tom Tykwer ("Run, Lola, Run"), but some of its flaws are too central for technical invention to dispel.

[movieperson id="1562815"]Clive Owen[/movieperson] plays an international operative named Louis Salinger. Salinger left Scotland Yard under a cloud two years earlier and now snarls around Europe in the service of Interpol — an agency without a dress code, apparently, since Louis, in his ratty raincoat and defiant mug-stubble, looks as if he just swam ashore from the dinghy in the last scene of [movie id="275750"]"Children of Men."[/movie] He is currently teamed with Eleanor Whitman ([movieperson id="66015"]Naomi Watts[/movieperson]), a Manhattan assistant DA. They're determined to take down the IBBC, a rogue bank that's financing international chaos and corruption. Each promising witness they pursue, however, turns out to be recently, and rather suspiciously, deceased. Salinger visits the bank's headquarters in Luxembourg, but gets brushed off by an oily lawyer (Patrick Baladi, deliciously authentic). He thrashes around in Berlin, Milan and Lyon; finally, in New York, by sheer, ridiculous coincidence, he happens to eyeball a top IBBC assassin he's been seeking, a character currently going by the name of Sherwood (Brian F. O'Byrne).

Sherwood is on his way to the Guggenheim Museum to meet his controller, Wilhelm Wexler (Armin Mueller-Stahl), an oddly avuncular ex-brute in the East German secret police. Salinger follows Sherwood into the Guggenheim (actually a soundstage recreation), where the movie's action centerpiece — a blazing shootout among the museum's many masterworks — soon erupts. This is an intense sequence, deftly shot and edited; but it goes on too long and eventually tips over into chuckleville — how many bullets can two guys' guns hold, even allowing for occasional reloads? (Timid souls may fret about what this bullet storm is doing to all the Picassos, Kandinskys and Delaunays on display; the movie, though, is made of sterner stuff.)

"The International" could have used more such unfettered uproar; considerable stretches of the picture are quite talky, and since much of the talk is of international financial intricacies and murky industrial schemes ("We only have 60 days left to deliver the worms!"), one's attention wanders. And Owen and Watts, two exceptionally fine actors, are at their least-riveting here. Owen's glowering, one-note performance tells us nothing about his character (which is to say, neither does the script by first-time screenwriter Eric Warren Singer); and Watts seems completely miscast as his partner. (Eleanor is a married mom, and at one point she's easily persuaded to bail out of a lethal situation in the interest of her family: Wouldn't a steelier agent have been assigned to back up the borderline-psycho Salinger?) Equally ill-advised, I think, was the casting of Danish actor Ulrich Thomsen as the snaky IBBC chief, Jonas Skarsson. This role would seem to cry out for a virtuoso creep — James Urbaniak, maybe; Thomsen is about as malevolent as a computer consultant. Iniquity should have an icy tang. At the heart of darkness here, we find only a Creamsicle.

Don't miss Kurt Loder's review of "Confessions of a Shopoholic" and "Friday the 13th," also new in theaters this week.

Check out everything we've got on "The International."

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