A Thriller Sans Thrill 

Sparks fail to ignite in dot the i

Dramatic hysteria knows no bounds in dot the i, a film that has the up-and-down rhythm of a roller coaster - with none of the thrills. Characters chase each other at a furious clip through the streets of London, cry buckets of tears, lob countless open-palmed slaps across faces, engage in tortured flamenco dancing and the kind of movie sex that threatens to alter the Earth's rotation. Better to ask, "What doesn't happen?"

Five minutes after the whole mess is over, you can't even remember what all the fuss was about.

A season of "Dynasty" never packed half the roiling action of director and writer Matthew Parkhill's debut. This half-baked romantic thriller is a bone tossed to an indie crowd increasingly asked to swallow lower-budget variations on Hollywood twaddle.

dot the i manages to cobble together the familiar lameness of straight-to-cable psychological thrillers while innovating some incompetence all its own. Though the film tosses out visual and verbal allusions to The Graduate, Betty Blue and Pedro Almodovar, these high fives to better films can only distract from this one's own lack of originality so many times. dot the i's more recognizable thriller kin: the films of Ashley Judd.

Spanish hottie Carmen (Natalia Verbeke) is engaged to marry English stick-in-the-mud and wine snob Barnaby (James D'Arcy), a fancy britches with an inheritance to cushion his lily bottom. But from the get-go, their love affair looks headed for the breakers. For starters, there is the small matter of their personalities.

Tracy and Hepburn, Lucy and Desi, Felix and Oscar were odd couples. But together, Carmen and Barnaby lack spark. In one of those par-for-the-course scenes meant to convey Carmen's dissatisfaction, we see Barnaby's back as he grinds away, while Carmen does her best impersonation of a corpse. Like everything in this film, their negative chemistry is overstated so we don't miss the fireworks when Carmen meets her true love, Kit (Gael Garcia Bernal).

Carmen is a human flamethrower whose signature gesture is a slap across the face of any man who dares to cross her. She's the kind of femme fou that indie directors go gaga for: She's unspeakably gorgeous, can't hold a job and can't seem to shake an obsessive former lover who may have followed her from Madrid to London, stalking her on the city's desolate streets. The specter of that violent ex sends Carmen into fits of shivering terror, though it doesn't keep her from strolling down every vacant, dark road in the city like Jack the Ripper-bait.

Carmen's resolution to marry Barnaby is tested with the arrival of Kit. He's an aspiring actor who videotapes constantly and plants a kiss on Carmen at her bachelorette party that alters the course of her life. In a continuously implausible film filled with incident upon incident that tests credulity, only Bernal, with that crooked grin and eyes you could fly fish in, seems capable of making a girl re-evaluate her imminent marriage with one kiss.

As if the whole tempestuous love affair wasn't tedious enough, Parkhill has far bigger aspirations than he initially reveals. The endless videotaping that occurs throughout the film should get attentive viewers to perk up their ears that some hook waits on the horizon. And sure enough, Parkhill has a real doozy up his sleeve. I don't think it's giving away too much to say it's hardly worth the wait.




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