Asia Argento, daughter of Italian horror director Dario Argento, has carved her own auteur-like niche as an actress. Her characters are beautiful messes of dichotomies and contradictions: carnal and innocent, manipulative and needy, headstrong and reserved, controlled and confused, confrontational and distant.
The effect is spellbinding, giving Argento command over every frame when on-screen. It also allows her to toy overtly and covertly with audiences, teasing and daring them to ignore her -- feats made harder by her exotically stunning physical beauty. Even the most tepid of films are bearable with Argento on board, and such is the case with French director Olivier Assayas' Boarding Gate. As with his earlier films, Demonlover and Clean, Assayas follows a troubled beauty stuck in a downward distress spiral of her own making. Here, the female in question is a high-end prostitute-turned drug smuggler (Argento) whose rekindled relationship with an ex-lover -- a calmly aggressive, debt-ridden businessman played by Michael Madsen -- explodes into a fury of head games, S&M sex play, violence and murder. The events put our femme fatale on a mad intercontinental dash, taking her from Paris shipping yards to claustrophobic Hong Kong streets. The overall story sounds intriguing and exciting, but it moves at a sterile dirge. Quick bursts of action punch through, particularly when Argento goes on the lam, but they aren't enough to move Boarding Gate into a sufficient pace. The only saving grace is Argento's dynamic performance. The raw sex and emotional fragility she radiates carry her above the muck, but not enough the save the film. Grade: C