For die-hard De Palma fans, details of plot, character, psychological acuity, emotional plausibility, and even whether the movie is as dumb as a bag of power drills are of little importance. All that matters is whether De Palma delivers several of his vaunted setpieces, orchestrating delirious frenzies of parallel motion that exemplify pure cinema. Passion, De Palma’s latest film, will irritate the faithful for about an hour, then thrill them as the master abruptly springs to life and starts carving up screen space with his usual reckless precision. Skeptics, however, are hereby advised that this is one of his sillier and trashier pictures, with nothing much to recommend it apart from those long-delayed bravura sequences. Most of it is barely distinguishable from the sort of generic erotic thriller that usually goes straight to video.
Certainly, few would guess, if they didn’t already know it, that Passion is a remake of a French film, Love Crime (2010), directed by the late Alain Corneau and starring Ludivine Sagnier and Kristin Scott Thomas. The plodding first half sticks pretty close to the original scenario, in which a scheming boss (McAdams) manipulates her naïve assistant (Rapace), though there’s no longer a significant age difference between the two women. De Palma’s new screenplay re-conceives subsequent events, however—which include infidelity, blackmail, murder, and campy lesbian overtones (involving Rapace, McAdams, and a fellow employee of uncertain loyalty played by Karoline Herfurth)—for maximum lurid idiocy. Twist after twist accumulates, each more hollow than the last; like most of De Palma’s work, Passion is composed exclusively of fetishistic surfaces, and it all comes down to how alluring you find them.
Still, even by those standards, there’s just not much going on here. A split-screen showpiece devoting half the frame to a ballet performance and the other half to an impending act of violence gets the pulse racing, but only after a whole lot of laborious setup, much of which serves as a contest between Rapace and McAdams to see who can most fully abandon any semblance of credible human behavior. (When McAdams humiliates Rapace before the entire office, showing them security-cam footage of her having a meltdown in the parking garage, she appears to be auditioning for Cruella De Vil.) Ultimately, De Palma is too self-serious to make delectable schlock, which is all that Passion really aspires to be; the vast majority of the movie gives the impression of him twiddling his thumbs while waiting to get to the good parts. Any chance he could devote the rest of his career to shooting isolated setpieces in other people’s movies?