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'The Saint': Is Nothing Sacred?

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 4, 1997

After a 30-year hiatus, "The Saint's" enigmatic do-gooder Simon Templar is back with a bent halo. A proto-Bond as played by George Sanders and then Roger Moore, the sophisticated cynic has been reinvented for the '90s. And reinvention in the hands of Hollywood is seldom cause for celebration.

Simon, portrayed by beefy, blunt-featured Val Kilmer, hardly resembles the charming rogue of British author Leslie Charteris's 50 novels. Though he is a master thief with a heart of gold, the new Templar has all the charm of one of those ladies behind the counter at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Templar is a man of many disguises -- including one lifted from "The Nutty Professor" -- and aliases. These masquerades, as we of the pscyho-savvy '90s are well aware, are symptomatic of a full-blown identity crisis.

And no wonder.

Director Phillip Noyce ("Clear and Present Danger") took it upon himself to explain how Templar came by his moniker, since Charteris, who created the character in 1928, never did. While the the name suggests a link with the Grail-questing Knights Templar, Noyce sets him up with a Dickensian childhood in a Far Eastern orphanage.

In a melodramatic opening flashback, young Simon is victimized by a sadistic Catholic priest, who starves and whips him and taunts him for his bastard birth. "Who are you? What's your name?" demands the priest, whose harangue plants the seed for the adult Templar's crisis of self.

Templar, who also saw his childhood sweetheart fall to her death, turned to a life of crime after escaping from the orphanage. A high-tech cat burglar with a fat Swiss bank account, he may be a sinner but he has no interest in harming others. Actually, he has no interests at all, other than becoming one of the idle rich after finishing one last job.

Screenwriters Jonathan Hensleigh ("The Rock") and Wesley Strick ("Cape Fear") have cooked up a preposterous plot about a Russian mobster (Rade Serbedzija) who creates a heating-oil crisis in his frigid country to seize power. When everybody's good and cold, he'll win them over by providing an alternative fuel source: cold fusion.

Templar, who has agreed to steal the fusion formula, hadn't counted on falling in love with Emma Russell (Elisabeth Shue), a scientist who carries the crucial recipe in her bra. Cross my heart. Though even more improbably cast than Kilmer, Shue does manage to put some fizz into her physicist's role. But when it comes to chemistry between her and Kilmer, the theory of irrelativity comes to mind.

Kilmer is at his best as a fey German espionage contact and as an impossibly nerdy professor. A former Bat suit-stuffer, the actor declined a second run in the rubberwear, which in retrospect proves much more flexible than the stiff new Templar. Simon says, take one step back.

The Saint is rated PG-13 for violence.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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