Few gifts in ‘Birthday Girl’

Ben Chaplin and Nicole Kidman in a scene from the new romantic thriller “Birthday Girl.”

With “Birthday Girl” Nicole Kidman once again proves that she’s much more than just a pretty face and the ex-wife of that super star, whose name need not be mentioned.

Thankfully Kidman is terrific as a Russian mail-order bride – actually, e-mail – who turns out to be a lot more than lonely British clerk Ben Chaplin bargains for because the movie, though mildly diverting, adds up to little.

A bit reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock and noir films of the ‘40s and ‘50s, “Birthday Girl” doesn’t even seem to be trying to add up to anything memorable.

For some movie’s that’s a blessing, but “Birthday Girl” needs more plot, more thought, more something. What, I can’t quite pinpoint, but I do know in the end I was dissatisfied and disappointed.

In writing this review three days after viewing the movie, I’m having great trouble remembering the film or even caring.

What is memorable is how Kidman (“Moulin Rouge,” “The Others”) sets up Chaplin (“The Truth About Cats and Dogs”) with sex.

Few would argue with the adage that sex sells. Well, it, along with Kidman’s acting, is what will draw people to the movie and is what they will talk about.

Kidman is Nadia the beautiful, chain-smoking bride Chaplin’s John orders thinking he’s getting a demure, English speaking mate. Well, you can’t trust that Internet. She appears not to speak any English and though she knits, she’s anything, but prim and proper.

The rather uptight John discovers they can communicate in other ways after she finds his stash of porn and proceeds to act out his fantasies. It’s a relationship based on sex, but in romantic movie fashion, it starts to turn into more until Nadia’s cousins arrive.

This is when the movie changes, not for the better. Their rather kinky evolving relationship, with long stretches of no conversation, and John’s blossoming would have made a more interesting movie than the con game, crime drama/chase film that ensues after the cousins drop in on Nadia’s birthday.

That’s when the movie becomes fairly predictable and characters start to do things that will have you thinking to yourself “Call the police now, you idiot.”

Chaplin is a fine understated actor, but he’s a little too mousy all the way to the unbelievable end. He does have some good lines, especially after he gets mad at Nadia.

French actors Vincent Cassel (“Brotherhood of the Wolves”) and Mathieu Kassovitz (“Amelie”) make the most of their roles Nadia’s Russian relatives.

Kidman is a brave actress, taking different types of roles with unproven or avant-garde directors.
She scores here, even if the movie doesn’t. Rated-R for sexual content, language and some violence