THE LITTLE Drummer Girl" is a case of ba rum pum pum pum meets lah dee dah, meaning it's got a slow beat and, uh, Diane Keaton.
Keaton, while accomplished, is just a smidgen too old for the part of Charlie, an aspiring actress turned double agent in the film from John Le Carre's best-selling novel, a tale of Middle Eastern ethics and espionage.
(Incidentally, Le Carre's book and the film are equivocal, placing blame for the Israeli- Palestian conflict on both sides of the border. Some feathers will be ruffled.)
Klaus Kinski, playing the Israeli super-agent Kurtz, enlists Charlie, your basic knee-jerk leftist, in his scheme to trap an elusive Palestinian terrorist named Khalil. In the process -- a confusing one, by the way -- she falls in love with one of Kurtz's chief operatives. And who can blame her?
Algeria's Yorgo Voyagis plays the latter, a handsome, brooding Israeli called Joseph. France's Sami Frey is equally charismatic and forceful as Khalil.
Keaton, however, seems miscast as an ingenue but almost pulls it off thanks to her craftsmanship. All the other women terrorists surrounding Keaton are young things, firm and glossy as peeled peaches. And that makes the crinkles around Keaton's eyes seem all the more obvious. Alas, poor baby boomers, we grow old.
Overall, this is a well-crafted, carefully paced, and appropriately cerebral work -- if the intention is to ape Le Carre's writing style, that is, and like the writer, de-glamorize the spy genre. If you're a fan of the style, this film will please. But "Drummer Girl," a longish film, can't take all the time it needs, unlike the leisurely television version of Le Carre's "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy," which is better.
Director George Roy Hill ("Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," "The Sting") has the vision, the skill and the drive. But where is the suspense?
Once persuaded to serve, Charlie never seems to be in real danger, except when she has trouble parking a car loaded with plastic explosives. Kinski, usually positively deranged, seems nearly serene. You almost wish he would step out of his character just once and start to tremble and gibber.
Stylistically, there are no real suprises either. And yet, it is all very watchable, almost soothing.
Paldum. THE LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL -- At area theaters.