Paris when it fizzles

"Femme Fatale" is a homage to the great "film noir" cycle of the '40s and '50s, which spun dark, shadowy stories in a dark, shadowy style.

It's also a reminder of Brian De Palma's ambition to create distinct entertainment at a time when most cinema is less original than it used to be. He can be as commercial as the next director, cranking out a "Mission: Impossible," but his heart is in a more idiosyncratic place.

"Femme Fatale" begins at the Cannes film festival, where an intricate jewel heist is in progress. This allows De Palma to reveal his agenda early, ricocheting between clips from the French art film "East-West" and a conspicuously spectacular diamond theft.

The film then hops to America, as the villain (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) settles into an incognito life. But soon it's back in Paris, where she and a photographer (Antonio Banderas) wend their way toward a predictably unpredictable finale.

De Palma is more a visual stylist than a storyteller. When he takes a film personally, he doesn't worry too much about plausible plot twists and coherent characters.

"Femme Fatale" may not always make sense, but it's crammed with flamboyant images and frisky cinematic pranks. Paris takes on an unaccustomed look as the camera steers toward gritty areas instead of tourist-friendly settings. Under these circumstances, Romijn- Stamos and Banderas aren't so much actors in a drama as pieces on a chessboard, moving in a way that keeps them watchable.

The baroque gamesmanship De Palma deploys was pioneered by his mentor Alfred Hitchcock and original noir filmmakers. "Femme Fatale" respects their legacy even as it bends it into new shapes. It's far from a great movie, but there's nothing like it on the current scene.

Rated R for sex and violence.

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