Along with its other shortcomings, “Passion” is woefully mistitled.
This off-key exercise is drained of any authentic juice, belying its apparent place in the crime-of-passion film tradition.
But then passion has never been the long suit of its director, Brian De Palma, whose strengths have been his fiendish cleverness and his often giddy intoxication with the movie-ness of cracked stories and characters.
Those talents find their footing mainly in some humid dream sequences in the third act of “Passion,” where De Palma finally asserts himself.
Until then, the film has been a bland remake of Alain Corneau’s quite dandy 2010 film “Love Crime,” a trim tale that mixed “All About Eve” with “The Servant” and threw a big bloody murder into the mix.
In this telling, set in the offices of a marketing behemoth’s Berlin office, stiletto-shod executive Christine (Rachel McAdams) takes credit for the ideas of her chief assistant Isabelle (Noomi Rapace), soothing her underling’s hurt feelings with assurances of the importance of teamwork and the occasional kiss on the lips.
The back-stabbing doesn’t end there, as Isabelle is sleeping with Christine’s kinked-up lover and embezzling colleague, Dirk (Paul Anderson).
The levels of humiliation and subordination continue, yet De Palma (whose also wrote the adaptation) doesn’t particularly savor that back-and-forth, even if those exquisite machinations are a large part of the appeal of a movie like this.
What’s worse is the generally flaccid tone, and especially the awkward performances.
De Palma has been accused of lacking an interest in the nonhomicidal interactions between human beings, and rarely has that been more evident.
Rachel McAdams never lacks for sharpness, but the rest of the cast, most of them non-native English speakers, are seriously out of rhythm, and everybody’s way too busy “indicating” instead of inhabiting their thoughts and feelings.
Noomi Rapace, so dynamic in the Swedish “Dragon Tattoo” trilogy and “Prometheus,” looks completely ill at ease; like De Palma, perhaps she’s comfortable only in a certain kind of heightened genre picture.
Which, by description, “Passion” ought to be. But by the time we reach the end of a series of corkscrewing nightmare scenes, it’s hard to detect that the filmmaker of “Dressed to Kill” and “Body Double” actually believes in his own lurid plot twists any more.
“Passion” (1 1/2 stars)
Corporate backstabbing in Berlin becomes homicidal in this flaccid remake of the 2010 French film “Love Crime.” Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace are the key players, both left adrift by director Brian De Palma’s off-key treatment of the material.
Rating: R, for nudity, language, violence.
Showing: Sundance Cinemas.