- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 31, 2005

“Walk on Water,” an Israeli import booked exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema, attempts to reconcile espionage melodrama with a change of heart — attributed to an initially hard-boiled protagonist, Lior Ashkenazi as a Mossad agent named Eyal.

In the prologue, we witness him kill a suspected terrorist with a walk-by lethal injection while on assignment in Istanbul. By the end of the film, we’re supposed to believe he is no longer capable of such assignments, although the similarities between first and last murder gigs have grown much too nebulous for persuasive sentimental or polemical argument.

In fact, the movie can be accused of making a shamble of its own mission of mercy on behalf of a lethal weapon. Eyal returns from Istanbul and learns of his consort’s suicide. He doesn’t bat an eye at the time, but there are cracks in the facade.

Back on the job, he grows solicitous about two young Germans — siblings named Pia and Axel (Carolina Peters and Knut Berger) — who require shadowing. They are reunited when the younger brother travels from Germany to visit the older sister, an aquaculture specialist of some kind who has been working at a kibbutz for several years.

Their grandfather, a Nazi war criminal, has eluded detection and capture for more than half a century. Rumors are circulating that he may still be alive and even bound for a homecoming.

While posing as a tour guide, Eyal drives Axel around and bugs Pia’s apartment. Though impatient with their ingenuous personalities and startled by the discovery that Axel is a homosexual who likes to cruise the bar scene, Eyal feels sufficiently protective about these peace-mongering modern Germans. He’s emotionally torn when ordered to follow Axel back to Berlin, just in case grandpa shows for a family soiree.

“Water’s” director, Eytan Fox, born in America but raised in Israel (and evidently inclined toward a “peace now” political agenda at the time the movie was shot, two or three years ago), vividly exploits locales from start to finish. So even when the material unravels, there are side trips to savor around Istanbul, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Berlin.

In superficial respects, “Walk on Water” is a knowing, proficient commercial film. The problem is that it probably would require a miracle comparable to the one invoked in the title to salvage the screenplay from agenda overload and flameout.

Once the climactic stage of the plot commences in Berlin, you’re convinced that Mr. Fox and his screenwriter, Gal Uchovsky, have scant excuse for being there. Too many improbabilities are destined to accumulate if grandpa shows or if he doesn’t. The +have dealt themselves a lose-lose hand.

It would be more prudent to resolve Eyal’s crisis of conscience or morale or whatever back in Israel, especially if the filmmakers insist on a very late-blooming love match between their hero and Pia.

As a practical matter, it’s inserted as a farewell bulletin. If anything, they invest so much time in an Eyal-Axel bonding fable that your radar wanders elsewhere. “Walk on Water” seems to be preparing for Eyal to execute a double crossover: no longer hostile to Germans and perhaps devoted to one tall, gentle German guy in particular.

One way or another, Eyal seems ready for a career change. If the political implication of all this is that Israel needed to do more reaching out and soul-searching to appease Europeans or Arabs during the worst months of the suicide bombings, events of the past two years haven’t confirmed Mr. Fox as a prophet.

He does, however, seem as capable with a suspense-movie format as most of his American contemporaries.

Before it caves, “Walk on Water” is fairly intriguing. The trick, it seems, is to prevent structural collapse, thematic or romantic.

**

TITLE: “Walk on Water”

RATING: No MPAA rating (adult subject matter)

CREDITS: Directed by Eytan Fox. Screenplay by Gal Uchovsky. Cinematography by Tobias Hochstein. Art direction by Avi Fahima and Christophe Merg. Costume design by Rona Doron and Peter Pohl. Music by Ivri Lider. Some dialogue in Hebrew and German with English subtitles.

RUNNING TIME:104 minutes

WEB SITE:www.walkonwaterthemovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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