The Girl who Played with Fire
- Directed by Daniel Alfredson
- Written by Jonas Frykberg
- Starring Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist
- Classification: 18A
Hard on the cold boot-heels of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the chilling adaptation of the opening tome in Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy, comes this tepid take on the middle novel. Tepid and downright confusing, at least for anyone (there must still be a few left) who have yet to dip into Larsson's page-turners. Don't get me wrong. It's refreshing to have a movie assume that its viewers are also readers, yet this one takes that assumption to testing lengths. To those fearful of flunking the test, my advice is simple: Bring along the book as your cheat-sheet.
Gone is the first film's director, replaced by the prosaic Daniel Alfredson, who starts things off by swarming us with a perplexing array of characters. Among them, I'm proud to say I did manage to pick out "the girl," Lisbeth, although that kick-ass tattoo was a tip-off, as was the fact that she's once more played by Noomi Rapace. And there's Michael Blomkvist too (Michael Nyqvist again), ready to serve as Larsson's alter ego in his ongoing quest to prove that Sweden's Edenic social democracy is, in truth, rotten to the core.
Here, the rot is centred on a sex-trafficking operation between the homeland and nefarious types in Eastern Europe. Yes, expect politicians and other higher-ups to be integrally involved. Among the lower-downs is a pair of crusading young journalists who, this being the crime genre, get brutally murdered for their investigative efforts. Since the prints on the weapon belong to Lisbeth, the cops finger her as the prime suspect. But we know better and, given their history together, so does Michael.
Unfortunately, in this outing, our two protagonists don't share any screen time and, thus, can't reignite the sexual sparks from their earlier go-round. Instead, what follows is a kind of extended double chase, with Michael tracking down the girl, and the girl on the trail of the real killers. En route, the thug-in-chief is a muscular behemoth who, thanks to some wonky neural wiring, literally feels no pain. Seems like cheating to me.
True to the title, conflagrations abound, both fires in the present and those that burned in Lisbeth's tortured past. Larsson is big on back-story, the better to extend the scope of his rage against corrupt authority. Yet all this is embedded in a plot that, already thick on the page, often seems impenetrable here, occasionally generating some suspense but more often prompting blank stares. Like at the final frame, when the picture doesn't end but simply stops smack in the middle of ... well, maybe next time, maybe clarity beckons in the Hornet's Nest.