The Crimson Rivers

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The Crimson Rivers

As the first pallid corpse is rolled out on the slab, Mathieu Kassovitz's The Crimson Rivers seems no more ridiculous than the countless other serial-killer movies that fetishized slaughter in the wake of The Silence Of The Lambs and Seven. The initial details of the autopsy are garden-variety, almost quaint. Severed arms and legs meticulously knotted into the fetal position? Check. Body gashed and pummeled with such surgical precision as to allow the victim to live for the longest possible time in the greatest possible pain? Yawn. But then, the film pulls off a loony coup de grace to rival the main course in Hannibal. Within the victim's hollowed-out eyeballs are deposits of acid rain, which hasn't fallen in the area since the early '70s, and which can only be procured by rappelling 100 feet down a glacier in the French Alps. As the genre dictates, this information is absorbed with the utmost gravity by investigator Jean Reno, doing his best Morgan Freeman impersonation as the weary-eyed veteran who's seen it all. But for the audience, it's merely a taste of the spectacular vulgarity to come, as Kassovitz's laughably straight-faced meditation on Evil makes room for Nazi eugenics, avalanches, car chases, and even a little kung fu. Foreign only by virtue of its subtitles, The Crimson Rivers continues a movement toward Hollywood that began with La Femme Nikita, proving again that the French can turn out mass entertainment that's just as slick and empty-headed as any American summer movie. At an elite college in the mountains, where students are genetically refined to Nazi perfection, Reno investigates the grisly murder of the school librarian. Meanwhile, the Brad Pitt character, a brash young rogue played by Vincent Cassel, looks into the desecration of a tomb of a little girl who was hit by a truck 20 years earlier. As the two incidents and officers converge, local climber Nadia Farès guides the investigators through both the glaciers and the school's sinister history, but her dubious motives make her a prime suspect. Following a trail of cryptic clues—the mastermind is a "pointer," not a serial killer, Reno helpfully euphemizes—The Crimson Rivers is ultimately a whodunit, but its staunch anti-logic leads to an unveiling no one could possibly anticipate. Kassovitz, whose overwrought but powerful La Haine (Hate) showed early promise, gooses the material with a busy soundtrack and lots of showy technique. Every door opens with a thundering whoosh, the ticking of a simple office clock sounds like the seconds before an explosion, and, in an ill-advised stab at social commentary, an impromptu kung-fu scene is accompanied by video-game narration. ("Congratulations." "Game Over.") One Hollywood provides more than enough stupidity; the idea of a second is about as appealing as acid-rain eyewash.