The Oscarologists called it a likely Best Picture contender. The fanboys called it, sight unseen, the best thing since sliced bread. The trailers called it, “The feel bad movie of Christmas.” Sadly, the English-language remake of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” ends up being neither Oscar-worthy, nor particularly memorable, capping 2011’s prevailing theme of cinematic disappointment.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

At Quality 16 and Rave
Columbia


Instead, the latest film from David Fincher (“Se7en”) is a complicated, difficult-to-sum-up-in-a-nutshell thing that resembles a cohesive film if you squint really hard. In broad strokes, it goes something like this: Protagonist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig, “Casino Royale”) is a disgraced journalist, freshly convicted of libel, hired by Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer, “Beginners”) to find his sister’s killer.

But there’s a twist! Vanger is the former head of Vanger Industries, one of Sweden’s largest conglomerates, and the killer is almost certainly a member of his family, a collection of sadists and “former” National Socialists. Blomkvist flies to an assortment of miserably snowy European locations and interviews an assortment of character actors with miserably bad accents, until we finally meet our title character (Rooney Mara, “The Social Network”), a private investigator with unparalleled hacking skills who gives Blomkvist the push he needs to dig his way to the truth.

None of this is particularly interesting — too much of the dialogue provokes mental exclamations of, “Why should I care?” and, “That’s great, what’s next?” — and much of the blame lies with Craig, a normally charismatic actor who neuters the script by subduing himself to the point of monotony. Whether he does this to chivalrously avoid stealing the limelight from Mara we may never know, but it’s obvious that Fincher and his screenwriter, Steven Zaillian (“Moneyball”), care a great deal about their titular character.

Though the girl with the dragon tattoo — otherwise known as Lisbeth Salander — does nothing of importance to the central storyline until midway through the movie, Zaillian finds opportunities to bring her to the foreground. As Blomkvist adopts a cat and interviews some Nazis, Fincher cuts to Salandar’s story of misery and ultra-feminism, a brutal mini-tale of personal vengeance that’s depraved to the point of torture porn.

Still, given the weakness of the film’s central mystery, it’s hard to blame the production staff for wanting to squeeze every last drop out of Mara, who transforms from Mark Zuckerberg’s cute, sassy ex-girlfriend into an intimidating patchwork of piercings and goth tattoos. The resulting character is transfixing, as we watch her wreak righteous havoc upon her abusers with tools ranging from golf clubs to tattoo machines to disturbingly large sex toys.

Eventually, the shock value wears off and the audience starts eating their popcorn. And in the end, even Fincher himself seems acutely aware that his final product simply isn’t engrossing. He attempts to compensate with a sickening overdose of stylization, some of it bizarre and misplaced.

There’s the Bond-esque introduction sequence, featuring some kind of glossy black substance flowing over the frame as a brash opening theme, courtesy of Trent Reznor (“The Social Network”), blares in the background. There’s the production design, particularly Salandar’s wardrobe, currently on sale at H&M. And of course, there are the thousands of cardigans everybody in Sweden seems to wear and the MacBook Pros every character seems to use.

None of it is a proper substitute for the substance the film lacks, or the audience’s frustration over so much wasted material. The Swedish original, a better film released to well-deserved acclaim, spawned a trilogy that concluded less than three years ago. If Fincher and Co. are expecting a sequel deal, they shouldn’t hold their collective breath.

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