Generous dollops of sex and colorful Barcelona settings dress up but can't disguise the routine and predictable whodunit plot of Jim McBride's "Uncovered." Shot under the title "The Flemish Board," this handsome European production doesn't offer enough in the way of a marquee cast or alluring premise to put it over as a theatrical attraction Stateside, where cable and video release look more suitable.

Generous dollops of sex and colorful Barcelona settings dress up but can’t disguise the routine and predictable whodunit plot of Jim McBride’s “Uncovered.” Shot under the title “The Flemish Board,” this handsome European production doesn’t offer enough in the way of a marquee cast or alluring premise to put it over as a theatrical attraction Stateside, where cable and video release look more suitable.

Kate Beckinsale (the young bride in “Much Ado About Nothing”) toplines as Julia, an art restorer who, in the course of cleaning a 15th-century Flemish painting of a duke and a knight playing chess underthe watchful eye of a duchess , uncovers a Latin inscription along the bottom that reads, “Who killed the knight?”

No sooner does Julia seek advice from her former lover, art authority Alvaro (Art Malik), than he is found murdered. It doesn’t take long for the list of victims to outnumber the suspects: Among those drawn into the intrigue are Julia’s gay guardian (John Wood), an art gallery proprietor (Sinead Cusack), the painting’s dying, aristocratic owner (Michael Gough), his shady niece (Helen McCrory) and her philandering hubby (Peter Wingfield).

Enlisted to piece together the painting’s mystery is an arrogant gypsy chess whiz (Paudge Behan), who by analyzing the position of the chess pieces in the painting can begin to sort out the pattern of the real-life murders.

His eventual hot affair with Julia provides momentary distraction from the procession of toppling bodies. The mystery’s resolution is easily predictable and perfunctorily handled.

McBride does everything he can to spice up the routine proceedings, injecting sexual innuendo into every possible encounter and populating the cast with lookers in roles big and small.

Julia’s habit of sneezing whenever presented with a sexual threat grows irritating, but sensual atmosphere, augmented by gorgeous settings (Wood’s character lives in a Gaudi apartment building), Affonso Beato’s lovely lensing and flavorsome score by Philippe Sarde, makes pic easy on the eyes.

Putting Anglo-accented thesps in presumably Spanish roles is a curious choice , but approach is at least consistent and proves acceptable. Beckinsale looks a little young to be an experienced restorer, but she holds her own nicely at center screen.

Irish newcomer Behan seems obnoxiously full of himself initially but gradually becomes an appealing presence. Others have fun within the basically functional limits of their roles.

Uncovered

(BRITISH-SPANISH)

Production

A CIBY 2000 presentation of a CIBY UK/Filmania production. (International sales: CIBY Sales, London.) Produced by Enrique Posner. Line producers, Denise O'Dell, Jack Baran. Directed by Jim McBride. Screenplay, Michael Hirst, McBride, Baran, based on the novel "La Tabla de Flandes," by Arturo Perez-Reverte.

Crew

Camera (Technicolor), Affonso Beato; editor, Eva Gardos; music, Philippe Sarde; production design, Hugo Luczyc-Wyhowski; art direction, Llorenz Miquel; costume design, Tracy Tynan; sound (Dolby), Clive Winter; assistant director, Baran; casting, Celestia Fox. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (market), May 20, 1994. Running time: 107 MIN.

With

Julia ... Kate Beckinsale Cesar ... John Wood Menchu ... Sinead Cusack Domenec ... Paudge Behan Alvaro ... Art Malik Lola ... Helen McCrory Max ... Peter Wingfield Don Manuel ... Michael Gough Inspector ... Anthony Milner
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