Dir:James McTeigue UK-Ger. 133mins.
Thelatest Alan Moore graphic novel adaptation, after From Hell and The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, V for Vendetta has A for Auxiliarywritten all over it.
It allstarts promisingly enough, with sombre chords and a vintage, black-and-white WarnerBros logo ushering us into a dark vision of a totalitarian Britain controlledin equal measure by police and media spin doctors.
Evenwhen the guy in the Guy Fawkes mask appears, we buy the conceit, because, inamong the disfigured-superhero hokum, there are signs that the film might havesome interesting things to say about the way a totalitarian regime would keepthe lid on dissent an age of global media and terrorist threats.
Alas,the hokum prevails, forcing poor old Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving -if it really is Hugo Weaving behind that mask - to trudge gamely on asthings get increasingly silly.
VFor Vendetta is a classic case of a sassy film withattitude bottling out andgoing for the schmaltz of the inspirational speech and the stirring CGI finalebefore it has earned its stripes.
Despite such shortcomings it should open strongly - in both the US and UK it rolls out on March 17 - with its core male teen audience, thanks to a strong trailer, Natalie Portman (from the second Star Wars trilogy), the Wachowski name and the lack of direct competition from any rival big budget action features. But drop-off may be steep once word gets around about its uneven mix of pulpy action and politics. Conversely, politically aware audiences attracted by such themes could be deterred by the comic-book sheen.
ItsDVD prospects look more hopeful: as undemanding home entertainment, this could even develop a cultish appeal.
Thefilm is set in what looks like today's London - except that a curfew isin force, there are loudspeakers on every corner and the Underground has shutdown.
Througha bigoted presenter on the British Television Network (BTN) - part of theInterlink by which the government controls hearts and minds - we learnthat in the wake of some unspecified conflict, the US has become a giant plaguepit, while Britain has turned into a gay-hating, Muslim-hating police statecontrolled by a Big Brother chancellor (a nicely sinister John Hurt), whotalks to his cabinet and his people from giant TV monitors.
Intothis sick society comes caped crusader V, a man who talks in an alliterativedoggerel. We don't need to be geniuses to work out that he has terrible skinbecause of something the regime once did to him, and that he wants to blow upthe Houses of Parliament.
But inAct One he's content to save English rose Evey (Portman) from the attentions ofsome government thugs, blow up the Old Bailey and make a broadcast to thenation.
Thereare some inventive set design and some enjoyable set pieces - a knifefight in a deserted Underground station, a falling-domino sequence thatcleverly introduces the film's V logo at the beginning of the final act.
Butthe film's nods to Guantanamo Bay, Orwell's 1984 andmedia spin doctors feel like PC window-dressing, rather than parts of asustained argument.
VFor Vendetta lurches into inanity around halfway, andthough it featuresa few gritty performances - notably from Stephen Rea as an ultimatelydecent police chief - this is not a fifth of November that we willremember, remember for long.