The Serpent



LONDON -- A childhood prank that went seriously wrong causes the thirst for vengeance that drives French director Eric Barbier's too slick but still entertaining thriller "The Serpent."

Based on a novel by Ted Lewis ("Get Carter"), it's a tale of an innocent man whose life is turned upside down when he is made to appear guilty of first rape and then murder. It's a handsome and sturdy suspense picture that smoothly glosses over plot holes and just about gets away with an overblown climax.

Just released in the U.K., "The Serpent" did well at the French boxoffice and should please international audiences who like their thrills served with a touch of Hitchcock.

Fashion photographer Vincent Mandel's ambitions are on thin ice already with wife Helene fighting him in divorce court for custody of their two children and his livelihood under threat since he works for his father-in-law.

Then into his life comes a ruthless character named Plender who is bent on avenging a long-ago incident that left him scarred for life and pushed his mother to depression and suicide. Plender is ex-Foreign Legion with a talent for blackmail and soon he has embroiled the photographer in the alleged rape and then murder of a young model.

At first Plender ingratiates himself with the unsuspecting Vincent but he soon reveals his true colors. Facing a murder charge, the photographer goes on the run while his blackmailer turns his dubious charm on the dissatisfied wife, Helene.

Bodies in trunks, S&M photographs and incriminating tape recordings are all part of the suspenseful mix as Vincent attempts to prove his innocence and save his wife and children from the increasingly demented Plender.

Yvan Attal ("Munich") makes a believable victim having thoroughly mastered a convincing expression of "what next?" Clovis Cornillac ("A Very Long Engagement") maintains a menacing air without making his character overly maniacal. There's not a lot Minna Haapkyla can do with the underwritten role of the strangely passive wife but Olga Kurylenko makes a lively impression as the gorgeous but criminal model.

Barbier paces the film deliberately helped by incisive cutting from editor Veronique Varga. Renaud Barbier's efficient score underlines the many shocks and jolts, and the film looks polished thanks to cinematographer Jerome Robert and production designer Pierre Renson.

Fidelite Prods., Big World
Eric Barbier
Writers: Eric Barbier, Tran-Minh Nam, based on the novel by Ted Lewis
Producers: Olivier Delbosc, Eric Jehelmann, Marc Missonnier, Pierre Rambaldi
Director of photography: Jerome Robert
Production designer: Pierre Renson
Music: Renaud Barbier
Costime designer: Claire Gerard-Hirne
Editor: Veronique Lange
Plender: Clovis Cornillac
Vincent: Yvan Attal
Cendras: Pierre Richard
Sam: Simon Abkarian
Max: Jean-Claude Bouillon
Catherine: Veronika Varga
Sofia: Olga Kurylenko
Helene: Minna Haapkyla
Becker: Gerald Laroche
Carbona: Pierre Marzing
Running time -- 119 minutes
No MPAA rating