Adapted from the second book in late Swedish novelist Stieg Larsson’s hugely popular “Millennium” trilogy, “The Girl Who Played With Fire” was originally conceived solely for television, and it shows. Never coming close to the comparative slickness and smooth direction of actors in the first seg, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” (also shot for TV, but with the bigscreen version in mind), this subpar Nordic crimer leaves ample room for improvement for the inevitable U.S. remake. Fueled by the success of the novels and the first adaptation, “Fire” has so far garnered healthy but not red-hot B.O. in Europe.
Assembled from two 90-minute TV movies, the pic opened theatrically in Scandinavia last September and fell short of the impressive success of its predecessor. Director Daniel Alfredson (second unit helmer on “Dragon” and brother of “Let the Right One In” helmer Tomas Alfredson) shot the material for this film and for part three, “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” back-to-back; the third pic has been released only in Scandinavia so far (last November).
“Fire” opens some time after part one, and investigative journo Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) hasn’t had much contact since with “Dragon’s” punk super-hacker, Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace). However, she’s been keeping an eye on him — or, at least, his hard drive — from abroad.
Just after Salander’s return, one of Blomkvist’s temp researchers (Hans Christian Thulin), who was working on an international sex-trafficking article that would have compromised a lot of high-placed Swedes, is found murdered, along with his g.f. Fingerprints on the weapon seem to point to Salander, an impression reinforced by the fact that her predatory guardian (Peter Andersson), the owner of the gun, is found dead the same night. The police and media want Salander’s blood, but Blomkvist is sure she’s innocent and wants to prove it to the police.
Alfredson and scripter Jonas Frykberg are clearly aware this is Salander’s show: Propelled by her own sense of justice, she operates solo even if people want to help her. But despite countless plot twists — fights, shootouts, chases, fires, even a lesbian encounter — the filmmakers offer no real insight into Larsson’s true subject: corrupted contempo Sweden and how this particular society has both shaped the characters and informed their actions. These elements were just as important as the intricate plot — which keeps Salander and Blomkvist apart for most of the story — in making the novel a real page-turner.
Without these larger insights, Larsson’s pulpier elements, such as evil bikers, a disfigured crime boss (Georgi Staykov) and a Russian heavy (Micke Spreitz) who feels no pain, drag the film down to the level of a late-’70s Bond film, not aided by Alfredson’s unsure hand with the actors, who seem on less steady ground than in part one. The protracted finale gives auds too much time to ponder all the improbabilities and loose ends.
Abundant use of closeups is only really effective in a strong scene between Blomkvist and an ailing member of Salander’s family; colors are dull and lensing is generally flat. Jacob Groth’s unimaginative score is less present in the first part of the film, and often oddly placed in the second.