Combustible Celluloid
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With: Nicole Kidman, Ben Chaplin, Vincent Cassel, Mathieu Kassovitz
Written by: Jez Butterworth, Tom Butterworth
Directed by: Jez Butterworth
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 93
Date: 09/05/2001

Birthday Girl (2002)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Today Bad Day

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Directed by Jez Butterworth and co-written by brother Tom, Birthday Girl emerges as an entertaining, if lightweight, thriller. Nicole Kidman stars in a top-shelf performance as a Russian mail-order bride who comes to England and into the life of milquetoast bachelor and banker Ben Chaplin. Two of Nic's Russian friends (Vincent Cassel and Mathieu Kassovitz) arrive and Chaplin doesn't quite know what to make of them. It turns out his suspicions are confirmed, however, when the trio pulls an elaborate swindle on him. They've pulled this same caper several times before, it turns out, but this time, Chaplin intends to make things turn out his way.

One scene does a nice subtle job of foreshadowing the suspense -- Nic learns a few English words and tries to inform Chaplin that it's her birthday, but with her accent and poor language skills, it comes out "today BAD-day."

The film doesn't bother to invent anything new but it does manage to avoid the usual pitfalls of this kind of genre (i.e. when the bad guy goes down, he stays down. He doesn't spring back to life nine times like Freddy or Jason). It also strays into welcome comedy from time to time. As a funny side note, the English Chaplin is the only actor playing someone from his own country.

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