In his first American picture (1994), clearly a spin-off of La femme Nikita, nihilist French filmmaker Luc Besson raises the stakes of his popular girl-with-a-gun theme by making the heroine a 12-year-old (Natalie Portman) who learns from a hit man (French movie star Jean Reno) how to handle firearms in order to avenge the slaughter of her family (by a group of sleazy drug barons headed by Gary Oldman). One might assume such a notion to be commercially foolproof, but apparently something or someone intervened—was it the ratings board or the NRA?—and the movie winds up cheating its premise by leaving the girl's trainer to carry out all the dirty work. For sweaty, suspenseful thriller mechanics the first reel or so is fairly adroit, and action buffs who like explosions probably won't feel cheated. But the sheer oddness of the New York world constructed for this film—where cops and crooks are literally interchangeable, and Oldman and Danny Aiello are stranded in roles that pick over the leavings of earlier parts—ultimately seems at once too deranged and too mechanical.
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