The restoration of an old Flemish painting leads to a
historical mystery, which then develops a parallel in a modern day
murder mystery. The restorer (Kate Beckinsale) uncovers a hidden
inscription beneath the painting, and that eventually leads her to
unlock some secrets hidden in the content of the painting itself,
consisting of subtle, long-forgotten messages involving an obscure
politically-motivated murder. The painter, unable to represent the
murder directly, chose to hide allegorical clues in a chess game being
played by the subjects.
Meanwhile, events in the restorer's own life start to
mirror the progress of that very same chess game. Some of her friends
and family are murdered, and she is sent a "captured" chess piece for
each victim. She doesn't really get it, so she enlists a chess expert to
help her predict the killer's next move.
There is nothing especially engaging about either the
historical mystery or the parallel contemporary murder mystery, but the
movie really isn't bad if you like that sort of thing. It isn't
brilliant, but it has its pleasures. I understand that it was based on a
really terrific novel. I haven't read it, but I can see how it would be
quite similar to The Da Vinci Code.
The only glaring weakness of the film is that the
acting is hammy and sometimes amateurish. Heaven only knows how Kate
Beckinsale ever survived in the acting business after this effort. If
you're a Beckinsale fan, you may want to avoid this flick, in which her
acting is about at the level of a primary school Christmas show, and she
demonstrates a subtlety which was apparently honed at the Vince McMahon
Academy of the Dramatic Arts.
The film does have two very big positives:
1. Extensive nudity from Kate Beckinsale, who hasn't
gotten naked on camera before or since, and is now a major star. Some
frames show a camera angle right up her spread legs. Is that her
coochie, or was she wearing a modesty patch? I don't know. It's just
pure blackness, and there is no definition of any kind to be seen up
there in the Inn of the Seventh Happiness.
2. Lovely visuals of Barcelona, which is one of the
most photogenic cities in the world. In fact, the director was
completely smitten by the city and was letting his camera linger on
interesting sights even when it was slowing down the movie.