- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 17, 2005

“dot the i,” booked exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema, is yet another unrewarding demonstration of how gratuitous deception, aimed principally at the audience, has become the sole preoccupation of many filmmakers who want to make an impression as mystery virtuosi. Unfortunately, deceit as an end in itself tends to preclude the development of human interest in persuasive and effective terms.

The wrongheaded mercenary in this instance is British, a writer-director named Matthew Parkhill. His most conspicuous dupes are recruits from outside the United Kingdom.

Natalia Verbeke stars as an erotically combustible Spaniard named Carmen, of all things, who plunges into a clandestine affair with Gael Garcia Bernal as a struggling Brazilian actor called Kit.

Circumstances bring them together at a French restaurant in London. A seemingly innocent social kiss mushrooms into a web of treachery so convoluted and overblown and punctuated by loopholes that need to be ignored that the mind reels. Just not in an agreeable direction.

The miserable conception depends on hiding an unscrupulous schemer in plain sight. This gambit looks threadbare as soon as it’s apparent that Kit can’t be the only character close to Carmen who has her under systematic video surveillance.

When the lurking mastermind turns out to have bizarre cinematic aspirations, it’s difficult not to associate him with the filmmaker, who also takes undeserved pride in forms of manipulation that never transcend the presumptuous or disreputable.

Like too many ill-conceived thrillers in today’s film noir-surfeited movie culture, “i” also relies on the code of omerta that governs movie reviewing: You aren’t supposed to blab the surprises concealed in mystery plots even if they stink to high heaven.

In that spirit it’s not even sporting to mention the actor who dominates the movie, because doing so would be a dead giveaway.

While Carmen and Kit are being played for romantically susceptible chumps, their actual rapport suggests that a romantic farce might have been the smarter option. The co-stars seem especially endearing when their accents make funny English together. In its present form, “i” could be a professional setback for Miss Verbeke if she really values posing as a sex bomb with a fast fuse, and for Mr. Bernal if he has an abiding weakness for weaklings.

Mr. Parkhill demands so many sickly smiles from Kit that the most striking aspect of Mr. Bernal’s performance is a grimace; it repeatedly exposes his crooked teeth. If the same director tries to woo him into a vampire movie, Mr. Bernal should flash a petrifyiing smile and beat a hasty retreat to the Americas.

**

TITLE: “dot the i”

RATING: R (Occasional profanity, graphic violence and sexual candor; fleeting nudity and simulated intercourse)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Matthew Parkhill. Cinematography by Affonso Beato. Production design by Tom Burton. Music by Javier Naravette

RUNNING TIME: 91 minutes

WEB SITE: www.dottheithemovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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