Opened: April 4, 1997 | Rated: PG-13
Yet another film renovation of a mythical TV series, "The Saint" plays like a low-calorie James Bond adventure. Packed with conspiring Russians and grandiose perils, it has all the intrigue and the outrageous plot line, but only half the thrills.
Very loosely based on the Leslie Charteris novels and the late 1960s TV series that starred a pre-Bond Roger Moore as, essentially, a freelance 007, the film turns disguise expert and master spy Simon Templar into an industrial thief who takes on dozens of personas to infiltrate governments and large corporations.
As star Val Kilmer aptly plays Templar like a roulette wheel of personalities, the story burns through a couple dozen recycled spy movie gimmicks before finding its true self -- an entertaining but routine formula flick -- in the last couple reels.
Opening with an entirely unnecessary flashback scene, we learn that Templar was once a put-upon trouble-maker in an orphanage. The film then jumps to a politically unstable Russia in the near future where a devastatingly cold winter is causing unrest bordering on anarchy.
An establishing action sequence finds Templar (in a mustache and full gadget-suit regalia) breaking into a Moscow oil conglomerate to steal a guarded, vaulted, high tech microchip. (Sure, as if Russia is on the cutting edge of technology.) He is caught by the henchman son of the country's leading ultra-nationalist (Rabe Serbedzija) and has to jump off a roof to escape in a scene that was all-too-obviously shot against a blue screen.
Afterwards in an attempt to trap Templar -- now disguised as an effeminate cross between Kilmer's Jim Morrison (from "The Doors") and pseudo-intellectual German punker Deeter (the Mike Meyers character from "Saturday Night Live") -- the power-hungry politician hires him to steal the recently discovered formula for cold fusion. His plan (besides killing our hero) is to use the formula to provide unlimited energy and heat for Russia, subsequently being swept into the Kremlin by a grateful populace.
Templar (now in the guise of a nerdy, aged intellectual) heads for Oxford University to meet the young scientist responsible for the breakthrough (Elisabeth Shue). He discovers she's a lonely romantic and becomes a dashing and mysterious espresso bar philosopher in order to seduce her. Naturally, complications arise as Templar falls in love with his prey.
Kilmer clearly took this project to flex his acting muscles. He is good enough to pull off an entire stable of stock characters, but stumbles when called on to show us a singular personality at the center of all these creations. It is impossible to trust in him as he falls in love with Shue, who herself is a little hard to buy as a sexy student/genius, even if she does have the secretive Simon Templar in a tizzy.
Back in Russia with the formula, he discovers the girl has figured out his modus operandi (he adopts the name of a saint for each disguise) and followed him there, putting herself in great danger from the baddies.
Together they run from the Moscow Mafia and attempt to abort the energy-related presidential coup.
With dialogue that would make a pulp novelist blush, ineffectual stunts and recycled spy story ploys, "The Saint" is, frankly, pretty meager stuff. But whenever it starts to drag Kilmer turns up in a new disguise and that alone carries the film through to its next thrill.
OK, so "The Saint" is nothing more than throwaway fun. It's a textbook popcorn picture. But, as its namesake TV show did 30 years ago, it serves as a fix for Bond addicts (color me guilty) waiting for 007's next flick, opening in November. And for some, that's reason enough to head for the multiplex.
You know who you are.