'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo' is more of an action-light whodunit than a real thriller.

A tomboyish punk hacker teams up with a disgraced middle-aged journo to solve a decades-old crime in “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” With more than 10 million copies sold worldwide since 2005, it’s no wonder this first novel in the late Stieg Larsson’s culty “Millennium” trilogy has made it to the bigscreen so fast, though the pic version is more of an action-light whodunit than a real thriller, and more of a CliffsNotes version than a deeply disturbing portrait of what’s wrong with contempo Sweden. Offshore success where the book sold well is likely, though not at local levels.

Boffo B.O. in Scandinavia, where the pic bowed in February and March, is now nearing 2.3 million admissions. However, the lack of star power and real bigscreen wow will mean less stellar results elsewhere.

The “Millennium” novels are probably the biggest international phenom to emerge from Sweden since Abba. Pic goes out in mid-May in France, where “Girl” was the bestselling novel of 2008, with Italy following later that month, and has already sold to many other Euro territories. However, it has yet to find a distrib Stateside.

The opening 20 minutes of the 2½-hour film race through the early setup, covering about a fifth of the 500-page tome. Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), an investigative journalist and editor of Millennium magazine, is summoned to the home of Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube), head of a family of industrialists. The aging patriarch asks Mikael to investigate the long-ago murder of his niece Harriet; Mikael, recently convicted of libel, is being forced to leave Millennium and thus accepts Vanger’s offer.

A parallel thread follows Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), a 24-year-old pierced-and-tattooed wild child who answers to no one. She’s also one of Sweden’s best private investigators and hackers and, after decrypting one of the clues in the murder case, starts collaborating with Mikael.

Danish helmer Niels Arden Oplev and scripters Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg find some elegant visual shortcuts for Larsson’s exposition-heavy prose, but also shear off much of its atmospheric detail. The viewer gets a relatively faithful version of the novel’s ingenious construction but only glimpses of its scathing portrait of Sweden as a corrupt, bankrupt and misogynistic society. (The Swedish title translates as “Men Who Hate Women.”)

Given the two scripters’ highly atmospheric conspiracy thriller “King’s Game” and Oplev’s ability to find fresh takes on genre material (“We Shall Overcome,” “Worlds Apart”), “Girl” reps something of a disappointment. Still, at least until the rushed final reels, the clean widescreen lensing, fluid editing and Jacob Groth’s coolly modern score do drive things along nicely.

Watching a whole Pandora’s box of past fascist and religious atrocities slowly fall into place remains fascinating. And as a whodunit rather than a noir, “Girl” ranks as a more-than-workmanlike Nordic crimer.

As the girl of the book’s English title, Salander is by far the more interesting of the two protags, a woman full of contradictions who operates solely according to her own logic. Rapace turns her into a mesmerizing, highly intelligent yet absolutely uncontrollable animal with her own sense of justice. It’s a testament to the actress that the character feels coherent despite some largely glossed-over moments — notably, those with her predatory guardian, Bjurman (Peter Andersson). As her partner, Nyqvist makes Mikael even more passive than in the book, and their pairing doesn’t exactly combust onscreen. Bit players are solid.

The lengthy feature was assembled from material shot for two 90-minute TV movies. Four more movies based on the other two novels, helmed by “Girl” second unit director Daniel Alfredson, are already in the can. Originally meant for the tube and ancillary, these also will now be released in Scandinavia as shorter, two-hour-plus theatrical features.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Sweden

Production

A Nordisk Film release of a Yellow Bird presentation and production, in association with SVT, ZDF, Nordisk Film, with the participation of Filmpool Stockholm Malardalen, Film i Vast, Spiltan. (International sales: Zodiak Entertainment, Paris.) Produced by Soren Staermose. Executive producers, Anni Faurbye Fernandez, Peter Nadermann, Ole Sondberg, Mikael Wallen, Jon Mankell. Directed by Niels Arden Oplev. Screenplay, Nikolaj Arcel, Rasmus Heisterberg, based on the novel by Stieg Larsson.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Eric Kress; editor, Anne Osterud; music, Jacob Groth; production designer, Niels Sejer, costume designer, Cilla Rorby; sound (Dolby Digital), Peter Schultz; second unit director, Daniel Alfredson; casting, Tusse Lande. Reviewed at CineBelval, Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxembourg, April 21, 2009. Running time: 148 MIN.

With

Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Lena Endre, Sven-Bertil Taube, Peter Haber, Peter Andersson, Marika Lagercrantz, Ingvar Hirdwall, Bjorn Granath.

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