Dir. Jean-PaulSalome. Fr-UK-Spain-It. 2004. 132mins.

At Euros 23m, ArseneLupin is one of the most expensive French films of the year, with sumptuoussets, lavish costumes, picturesque locations and spectacular camerapyrotechnics. But there is little else to recommend it: certainly not thescreenplay, which never quiet makes up its mind what it wants to be.

Despite somesuperlative technical credits, it is unlikely the film will do much businessoutside its own territory where it is released on Oct 13, before beating ahasty retreat to ancillary.

Invented a centuryago by French novelist Maurice Leblanc, Arsene Lupin himself blends theimpertinent irreverence of a Robin Hood, appropriating the ill-begottenproperties of the rich and famous, and the peculiar gifts of an inveterate DonJuan who can't help chasing any woman who crosses his path.

Featured in a seriesof successful novels and short stories, he is a legend in his own right inFrance, where his adventures often find their way to TV as well as film.

Brought back tocinemas by writer/director Jean-Paul Salome, Arsene (Duris) this time findshimself caught up between the mysteriously beautiful Countess of Cagliostro(Scott-Thomas) and a royalist plot to restore the monarchy to France.

The storyline isessentially a treasure hunt whose purpose is to locate the fortune of the Houseof Bourbon, coveted by both the countess and the conspirators. Its secretlocation will be revealed once three holy crosses from a trio of France's mostcelebrated cathedrals are put joined together.

The plot meanders asthe search for the crosses progresses, exploring the background and possiblesupernatural identity of the countess, an offspring of the 18th-centurymagician Giuseppe Cagliostro, as well as the murder of Lupin's father, a traumawhich perpetually haunts his son.

Those familiar withLupin will expect - in vain - a lightweight crime caper with plenty of charmand elegance. Over the years, his public image has been that of a loveable,raffish rake and ladies' man, a mastermind burglar with a strict code of ethicswhich, among other things, prevent him taking human life even in the mostextreme circumstances.

But the filmcompresses too much background at the expense of clarity, adding 30 years ofLupin's lifestory to the plot of Leblanc's 12th novel The Countess OfCagliostro.

Romain Duris ismiscast as the lead in a part that demands a suave, debonair actor - everythinghe is not. He dabbles his way rather despondently through a maze of changingmoods, from slapstick to melodrama, without much warning.

Also absent areLupin's brilliant capacity for deduction, for which he was considered SherlockHolmes' equal, and the stylish sophistication that served him so well inrelieving wealthy socialites of their diamonds. Instead his main attributes noware a talent for kickboxing and unfathomable reserves of energy, which hedisplays as the script requires.

Using a cast ofcardboard characters who do not need much in the way of motivation, Salomeretreats into febrile but not particularly stylish action to move the plotforward, frequently introducing special effects to escape from tight narrativecorners.

To his credit, thefinal result is visually impressive at all times, with every Euro spent up onscreen. Scott-Thomas is her usual enigmatic beauty, which in this case servesthe purpose well. But the rest of the cast walk through their parts withoutseemingly giving them too much thought.

Token attempts aremade to give the piece a contemporary resonance: in an early scene, Lupinaccuses a luxury liner purser of employing illegal immigrants, while later aterrorist bomb explodes.

Prod cos: Hugo Films, TF1 Film Production, M6 Films, PoissonRouge Pictures, Vertigo Films, RAI Cinema
Int'l sales:
TF1 International
Fr dist:
Stephanre Marsil
Jean-Paul Salome, LaurentVachaud, based The Countess Of Cagliostro Cine: Pascal Ridao
Marie-Pierre Renaud
Prod des:
Francoise Dupertuis
Pierre-Jean Larroque
Debbie Weisman
Main cast:
Romain Duris, KristinScott-Thomas, Pascal Greggory, Robin Renucci, Eva Green, Matheur Carriere,Philippe Lemaire, Philippe Magnan, Patrick Toomey