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‘Point of No Return’ (R)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 19, 1993

If you see "Point of No Return," starring Bridget Fonda, just remember there was an original, better French version called "La Femme Nikita." Of course, Hollywood has long since passed its own point of no return stealing from the Gauls. So let's groan quickly, note the new version's good points (see references to Bridget Fonda and Harvey Keitel), point to the flaws (see entire review) and move on.

"La Femme Nikita" was a deliriously ludicrous thriller starring Anne Parillaud. A tough-hearted junkie sentenced to death for murder, she was given a new lease on life. After a "Pygmalion"-style transformation by shady government operatives, she was transformed into a lethal weapon, a classy, untraceable assassin who could sip Dom Perignon with political targets, then pump them full of lead.

The movie was wonderfully ridiculous, a French attempt to make a Hollywood action picture. It was sensational, classy, absurd and sublime -- all at the same time. But Hollywood made no money on it. Voila this Warner Bros. remake, starring American sex symbol Fonda. Like the recent, laughable remake of "The Vanishing," this is exactly the same movie, except it's klutzily American. For gratuitous Fonda fans, however, for whom even "Shag" is a classic, this is a sight for sore eyes.

In the "new" version, animal-like junkie Fonda is busted for the murder of a cop. In the District of Columbia (which in real life voted against the death penalty in a referendum), she is sentenced to death. Fonda's execution is staged. Taken to a place Somewhere in Washington, she gets the word from operative-controller Gabriel Byrne. She's been given a second chance -- as a secret assassin for the government. After Byrne's training program, she'll be able to hold her own at fancy restaurants (thanks to the tutoring of Anne Bancroft); deliver lethal, kung-fu kicks; and operate sophisticated weaponry.

Mere sequences later, she has acquired all these skills. Given a new name and sketchy background, she's told to start a life in Venice Beach, Calif., while awaiting assignments. Barely 10 minutes later, she's deep in a relationship with photographer Dermot Mulroney, an insufferably sensitive bimbo who makes you hope he's her first hit.

"I want to know what your fifth-grade teacher was like," he whines, complaining about her reluctance to talk about her past. "I want to know if this pretty face used to have pimples on it."

The jobs start coming -- a bomb job at a hotel (room service was never so deadly) and a sniper shooting in New Orleans. Byrne (who clearly has a Henry Higgins thing for Fonda) is always there to make sure she does the deed. When Mulroney's suspicions about his girlfriend continue, Byrne even shows up for dinner as Fonda's "Uncle Bob." Inexplicably in love with Mulroney, Fonda tries to cut an exit deal with Byrne. But even he must answer to a higher authority -- one who doesn't care for La Femme Fonda.

Screenwriter Robert Getchell and director John Badham (whose resume includes the fallen "Bird on a Wire") wouldn't know a believable moment if it hit them. Fonda's transformation to lethal weapon, her affair with Mulroney and the implied romance with Byrne are all lukewarm, lazily outlined conceits. There have been deeper human relationships in TV commercials.

By the way, is arch-tutor Bancroft trying to imitate Jeanne Moreau (her "Nikita" counterpart) or Joan "Mommie Dearest" Crawford? And whatever happened to Fonda's early addiction? And where exactly in Washington, D.C., can we find a subculture of white junkies parading like rock-video mutants through downtown? Has anyone from this area seen the alert, infrared-equipment-toting cops that exist in this movie?

Fonda's nubile presence notwithstanding, there is one other reason to see this: A cameo by Harvey Keitel -- as a murderous trouble-shooter called Victor who cleans up botched murders and other sticky problems -- is almost worth the price of admission. In fact, he should star in a spinoff movie called "Victor the Cleaner." It would be exactly the kind of cult hit Warner Bros. is trying to crib. Perhaps they'd better wait for it to come out in France first. But until that time, give yourself a treat and rent the video of "La Femme Nikita."

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