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Tribeca Review: ‘Möbius’ Spins Off In Too Many Directions You Won’t Want To Follow

Tribeca Review: 'Möbius' Spins Off In Too Many Directions You Won't Want To Follow

Who can you trust? It’s the
question posed by the international spies at the heart of “Mobius,” all of whom
spend their time so deep undercover that they might as well be double-crossing
themselves. Of course, as this film proudly, defiantly jumps deep into the pool
of international finance trading (which may actually be a thing, or might just
be three buzzwords slammed together given the rapid-fire patter of this film),
the question audiences will likely be asking is, who can we avoid trusting so
we aren’t a part of this whole mess?

International trader Alice Redmond
(Cecile De France) is the beautiful, brash mover-and-shaker behind a finance
company serving as a front for her undercover activities. Which, like most of
the plot developments in this film, is a guess: our first moments with Alice
show her trading multi-lingual barbs with a friendly Indian intern and a
barking French boss, who chides her for making brash investments based on an
unseen device she has invented, one that studies and predicts market trends.
Assuming this movie is about magicians, makes it seem that much clearer.

Alice is using this skill to
navigate into the inner circle of Russian magnate Ivan Rostovsky (Tim Roth),
who in turn is attempting to con this pretty genius into his bed. This may be
subterfuge of some sort, since not only does Rostovsky sport the most
intimidatingly over-prepared security detail, but Roth himself seems to be
playing his character like a snake. His head-bobbing runs against the pattern
of his accent ducking and weaving in and out of his voice like a punch-drunk
pugilist, slouching as if he is wearing a jacket five sizes too small. Perhaps
the intention is Rostovsky is so used to this song and dance of courting
alluring prospects for his shady business endeavors that the very act of
seduction seems like a chore.

Watching from afar is Russian
secret agent Gregory Liobov (Jean Dujardin), and his first scene, like many
others in this film, relies on a sense of misdirection. He chews out an
underling for possibly scheming behind his back, the reveal being that he was
simply playing a mark, challenging his spy cohorts. Admittedly, this comes
across as confusing given Dujardin’s dashing good looks: he plays
the scene as if freshly waking from a crushing hangover, in unbuttoned dress
shirt and rakish five o’clock shadow. No wonder Clooney got this guy to show up
in “The Monuments Men”: one Oscar winner is about to steal the other’s thunder.

The spy activities in this film
are so low-key and professional that we don’t even realize that Liobov has
broken rank and attempted to seduce Alice. Amusingly, one of the film’s jokes
is that he eludes his own team’s shoddy surveillance in order to take her to
bed, the two of them so smitten with each other that they easily get over the
suspicion that there’s something pretty spy-ish about this good-looking
stranger. As their courtship intensifies, so does the surveillance, leading to
one preposterous scene when he shares a phone call with her while in the same
car as the eyes and ears of the operation.

“Mobius” is titled after the Mobius
strip that connects in a way to ensure that one path will close upon itself
without meeting at the starting point, a heavy-handed metaphor explaining the
depth of Gregory’s cover within the dialogue. It’s just one of several
on-the-nose exchanges meant to ignore that the action is impossible to follow,
but to suggest that you should probably be paying more attention. Suffice to
say, no one is in the driver’s seat exactly when they expect, leading to a
collection of revelations that cast aside what we thought we knew as either
ruse or inessential. It lacks artfulness, stranding our characters in
situations that lack moral complexity but seem fueled by arcane plot
developments that yield no fruit, other than fascinating anyone in the audience
who doesn’t believe in a filmmaker’s ability to deceive.

Were there any thematic ideas
beyond this game of spy one-upmanship, it would carry more weight. At least
“Mobius” attempts to land on a good foot, sponsoring the illusion that the film
all along was about the romance between Gregory and Alice. Dujardin and France
are a gorgeous, glamorous couple, and as the film jumps between languages and
locations, you stay fixated on the two of them, not because their characters
have any exciting personality traits, but because these are a couple of
movie-star glamorous performers in beautiful wardrobes frolicking in exotic
locales. For as much story-heavy artifice one can pile onto a film, sometimes the
pleasures can be enjoyably, nakedly superficial. [C]

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