The Saint leaves star Val Kilmer and director Phillip Noyce (Patriot Games) fighting to enliven an exhausted character. Author Leslie Charteris created Simon Templar, a k a the Saint, in 1928, which led to some 50 musty novels, nine forgettable movies from 1938 to 1954 and a twit TV series in the 1960s starring a well-groomed if wooden Roger Moore.
Credit Kilmer and screenwriters Jonathan Hensleigh (The Rock) and Wesley Strick (Cape Fear) for spicing up Simon, whose escape from a Catholic orphanage as a boy leads to his using the names of saints in his disguises as a thief. The makeup and accents he employs as a German spy, a British scientist, a South African poet and a Russian bodyguard help to hide a damaged psyche — shades of Batman, a profitable franchise that Kilmer quit to forge a new one in The Saint.
Kilmer’s brightest moments, and the film’s, come when the Saint is still a sinner willing to lie, cheat, steal or free-fall off buildings to stuff his bank account. Love redeems this profiteer; it also renders him conventional. The Delilah who tames him is Emma Russell (Shue), an Oxford physicist whose formula for cold fusion is worth millions. She teaches Simon that the formula is a gift to the world that must be kept from Russian power monger Ivan Tretiak (Rade Serbedzija of Before the Rain) and his sicko son, Ilya (Valery Nikolaev).
Look, Shue broke my heart in Leaving Las Vegas, but there is no buying her role as a babe Einstein. And that hot air about energy — a similar gimmick helped sink Keanu Reeves’ Chain Reaction — is murder on the film’s pace. Kilmer’s Saint is much livelier as a lone wolf. Never mind that test audiences liked Shue so much that the ending had to be re-shot so she didn’t die. Test audiences are the titans of bland. If there is a sequel to The Saint, stick with Kilmer’s first plan: Lose the halo.