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Friday, 28 June, 2002, 11:54 GMT 12:54 UK
Birthday Girl falls flat
Nicole Kidman is riding on a wave of popularity
The film relies on too many old clichés

Given the recent popularity of Nicole Kidman (thanks to the double whammy of Moulin Rouge and The Others), it comes as no surprise to see this long-gestating comedy thriller, made before either of those films, finally getting a cinema release.

However, it is fair to say that it might still be languishing on the shelf if it were not for Kidman's current bankability - for this is a wildly uneven affair, one which strives so desperately to be wacky and edgy that it ends up being neither.

Ben Chaplin
The love-hate relationship loses its way
Ben Chaplin (from The Truth About Cats And Dogs, and sitcom Game On), is John, the shy introverted bank clerk (working in an environment that could have been lifted straight from The Office) who applies for a Russian mail-order bride.

He is shocked when Nadia (Kidman), the girl who arrives, is a chain smoker who speaks barely a word of English, far from the bi-lingual non-smoker he was promised in her advert.

After initial attempts to send her home fail, he gradually finds himself falling for her charms (spurred on by her insatiable appetite in the bedroom).

Matters are complicated however, when her cousin (Mathieu Kassovitz) and his best pal (Vincent Cassel) show up to celebrate her birthday.

Before long, our hero is turning to crime to worm his way out of blackmail - and then proceedings take on an even more sinister twist.

Ben Chaplin and Nicole Kidman
Kidman and Chaplin are likeable enough
The fact that Birthday Girl is a British set movie filmed in Australia, featuring two French actors playing Russians only serves to underline just how confused the whole project really is.

It starts out promisingly enough as a light romantic comedy and is not without its fair share of moments (mainly derived from John's bland, faceless colleagues).

But the arrival of Kassovitz and Cassel throws the whole thing into disarray, shifting the tone uneasily into thriller territory while trying to stay close to its quirky comic roots.

Sadly for director Jez Butterworth, this gamble does not pay off, as the film is neither amusing enough as a comedy or convincing enough as a thriller.


It is bogged down by the use of too many clichés - the love-hate relationship of the two leads, the bad guy duo arguing over aspects of pop culture (done to death post-Tarantino and no longer funny).

The result feels like a compendium of all the British gangster films of the past few years, but it is too self-conscious to succeed, coming across instead as rather overblown and over-the-top for its own good.

Kidman and Chaplin are likeable enough as the mismatched twosome, but the film gives them little to do beyond bonking and bickering, once their initial relationship has been established.

Given the talent involved, it is a wasted opportunity - and one which may well have ended up bypassing the cinema altogether were it not for the presence of its high-profile cast.

Birthday Girl is released in the UK on Friday 28 June.

Birthday Girl discussed on BBC Radio 4's Front Row
"I don't think it fits into a genre"
See also:

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