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Picks and Pans Review: Man on Fire

updated 05/03/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/03/2004 01:00AM

Denzel Washington, Dakota Fanning, Christopher Walken, Marc Anthony

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When John Creasy (Washington), a burned-out ex-CIA assassin turned bodyguard, decides to kill the kidnappers of a young girl (Fanning) he was hired to protect in Mexico City, he shows no mercy. "Forgiveness," he explains, "is between them and God. It's my job to arrange the meeting." Although Man on Fire strongly suggests there is divine purpose to Creasy's mission, you have to wonder whether God would necessarily approve of the man's methods. After tracking down one lowlife, Creasy slices off the fellow's fingers and then cauterizes the bleeding stumps with a car's cigarette lighter. Nice.

Fire isn't a simple, bloody revenge drama. And that's the trouble. The film starts off promisingly but soon trips up on its own ambitions, trying to be a character drama, a violent story of crime and punishment and a tale of faith and redemption. It doesn't help that director Tony Scott (Spy Game) serves all this up with distractingly jumpy, we-don't-want-you-to-get-bored visuals. Washington does superior work, finding humor where he can. Fanning (Uptown Girls) continues to impress as a talented, serious little actress, and Walken turns in what for him is a restrained performance as a longtime pal of Creasy's. (R)

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