The Girl Who Played with Fire
Directed by Daniel Alfredson
Written by Jonas Frykberg
Starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist, Annika Hallin, Per Oscarsson

At this point, I’ve more or less decided that I’ll be following along with Stieg Larsson’s blockbuster Millennium trilogy via the film adaptations rather than the bestselling books.

For one thing, my “To Be Read” stack is already high enough without adding three more weighty tomes on top of it.  More importantly though, nothing I’ve read, heard or–in the case of the movies–seen about the series has convinced me that I desperately need to run out and buy the books.  Those feelings were confirmed after sitting through the lethargic second installment in the Millennium film franchise, The Girl Who Played With Fire.  While I didn’t love the first chapter in the trilogy, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which was released stateside in March and is now arriving on DVD (you can revisit my review here), I thought it was a decent detective yarn powered by an intriguing mystery and lively performances by its two leads, Michael Nyqvist as investigative journalist and amateur P.I. Mikael Blomkvist and Noomi Rapace as the titular girl, expert hacker and trouble magnet Lisabeth Salander.

Both actors are back for the sequel and it’s a good thing too because they’re the only elements of the film that kept me at all engaged in the proceedings.  Dragon Tattoo got off to a strong start before falling prey to too many contrivances and illogical plot points in its final act.  Fire, on the other hand, takes forever to get going and then once the wheels finally start turning, it becomes readily apparent that the filmmakers have very little story to tell.  Picking up roughly a year after the events of the previous chapter, the plot finds Lisabeth accused of murdering two freelance journalists that were working on an article for Blomkvist’s magazine about sex trafficking.  Naturally, she didn’t really do it, but she’s been expertly framed for the crime and her adversarial relationship with the Swedish legal system makes her reluctant to clear her name by working with the cops.  Mikael is eager to help her, but she keeps him at arm’s length too—in fact, the two of them spend the bulk of the film apart.  That would be okay if they were each engaged in equally interesting activities.  Unfortunately, most of the actual sleuthing (what little of it there is since the murder case winds up playing a minor role in the film) is handled by Mikael, while Lisabeth drops in every now and then to do some computer hacking, threaten a scummy rapist, make out with a hot lesbian and finally get beaten to a pulp by the mastermind behind her plight, who is none other than….nah, don’t worry–I’m not going to spoil it, even if it saves you the price of admission.

Despite my general disinterest in reading the book, this may have been a case where more familiarity with the source material would come in handy, if only to get a sense of whether the filmmakers botched the adaptation or simply made the best they could out of what they had.  (I’m leaning towards the former rather than the latter, but you never know—as bad as all those Nicolas Sparks movies are, the books themselves are often worse.)  Either way though, The Girl Who Played With Fire is a dud, a would-be thriller that suffers from glacial pacing, choppy editing, bland direction—incoming director Daniel Alfredson displays little flair for composition and basic scene blocking—and a distinct lack of thrills.  Here’s hoping that the third installment The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, due out here in the fall, is a marked improvement because otherwise I doubt I’ll ever get around to checking out Larsson’s tales in their original form.

The Girl Who Played with Fire opens in limited release today.