Wes Phillips Takes a Look at The Saint on laserdisc

Val Kilmer, Elizabeth Shue, Rade Serbedzjia. Directed by Phillip Noyce. Aspect ratio: 1.85:1. Dolby Digital. 118 minutes. 1997. CLV. Paramount Home Video LV335363-WS. PG-13. $39.95.

A quick quiz will help you determine whether or not you'll find The Saint credible: You are a beautiful research scientist who has discovered the secret to cold fusion. Where do you hide the formula? If you answered "in my bra," then few of the many improbabilities piled high in this chaotic movie will faze you.

The Saint, the venerable Leslie Charteris character, has been the hero of countless books, several other films, and even a television series starring the monumentally wooden Roger Moore (featured here in a voice-only cameo). The character has legs, which is why it's so puzzling that this movie throws away all of the Saint's back-story---including changing him from good guy to thief---choosing instead to construct an incredibly facile psychological underpinning for a character who lacks any identity of his own. Of course, this gives Val Kilmer a chance to pout or smirk his way through too many disguises to mention.

The story is confused and bizarrely paced---first dashing madly from climactic escapade to climactic escapade, then slowing down for extended "meaningful" interludes before going all frantic again. Basically, Simon Templar (Kilmer)---a man without identity or scruples---is an international high-tech cat burglar trying to accumulate a safety net of $50 million so he can retire. After robbing an unscrupulous and power-hungry Russian nationalist, Templar is recruited by the self-same Russian to steal the secret of cold fusion from the beautiful physicist (Elizabeth Shue) who has cracked it. He does, falls in love with her in the process, then spends the rest of the film attempting to steal it back.

The special effects are spectacular, but after the first hour, they become mind-numbing. However, the Dolby Digital soundtrack is beautifully executed. Sounds throughout are clear and well-localized. The film transfer is impressive too---much of the action takes place in dimly lit rooms and at night, yet there is a sharpness and clarity that always manages to beguile the eye.

Too bad I can't say the same about the action itself, which is just plain silly. A suggestion to major film studios: Hire a seven-year-old boy; if he can see the holes in the plot, then change it. The Saint could have really used somebody like that.