Point of No Return

I am always suspicious about the careers of movie stars who belong to acting dynasties on the order of the Barrymores, the Hustons, the Fondas, etc. Bridget Fonda definitely suffered early on, when people suspected that she might have gotten a break because she was the daughter of actor-director Peter Fonda (Easy Rider) and the niece of Jane Fonda.

However, when you examine Fonda's recent achievements, there should be no doubt about her talent. She has seldom given a bad performance, not even in a terrible movie called Shag. Fonda is certainly a busy actress, having made twelve films in the six years. This year may be the turning point for her: after co-starring in the psychological thriller Single White Female and the lifestyle comedy Singles, Fonda can now be seen in two movies: Point of No Return and Bodies, Rest & Motion.

Warner's remake of the French art-house cult item, La Femme Nikita, is a trashy, meaningless picture. John Badham almost slavishly follows Luc Besson's movie, though as in the case of Sommersby (a remake of the French The Return of Martin Guerre), the original is far superior to its American reincarnation.

In case you have not seen the French movie (which Goldwyn is rereleasing and is also available on video), Fonda plays Maggie, a tough, drug-addict drifter, caught with her friends while burglarizing a drug store. She is taken by Bob (played by the eternally soulful Gabriel Burns), a government agent who spends hours humanizing and teaching her, literally reinventing her as a cool government killer. Moving to Venice, California, Maggie falls in love with a sensitive and attractive superintendent (Dermot Mulroney). But she soon suffers from split personality: a murderess trying to enjoy a domestic bliss!

The French fantasy was just as mechanic, but it was also cooler and more ironic; there were more ambiguities, more shadings. Luc Besson is a stylist who places more emphasis on decor, color filters, camera angles, and startling frames than on interesting narrative and characterization. You may recall Subway (l985), or his underwater epic, The Big Blue (l988), both featuring exhilarating visuals and exhibiting a personal voice.

In contrast, John Badham' style of filmmaking is completely impersonal. The clich' titled Point of No Return has great production values (particularly costume design and cinematography), but the movie might have been staged by a committee. This should not surprise you: A smooth director using an unobtrusive style, Badham's recent films (Bird on a Wire, The Hard Way) have been escapist and mindless.

I have two objections to the brainless entertainment of Point of No Return, even if it displays a flashy style that could be called cinema chic. First, a sexist streak runs through both French and American movies. Whether Maggie plays a hit-woman or femme fatale, her heroine is always a victimized woman, imprisoned by male fantasies of one kind or another. The wish to shape a woman's life, remodel it after some great ideal, has been a prevalent myth in our male-dominated culture, manifested in G.B. Shaw's Pygmalion, the various mutations of My Fair Lady, and Hitchccok's Vertigo.

My second complaint concerns the cartoonish violence, in both movies, one that is dangerous precisely because it is senseless and meaningless. Sent to perform a hit, the narrative never bothers to explain who Maggie is killing or why. She is like a robot, an automaton working for a nameless organization, whose chief officer is alarmingly named Kauffman (why use a Jewish name) Moreover, with the exception of a few scenes, Maggie doesn't register much emotion. Some moviegoers may find it titillating to watch Fonda dressed in her chic clothes (often in red) while performing her cold-blooded actions.