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Release: 2002, Miramax
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Ben Chaplin, Vincent Cassel, Mathieu Kassovitz
Director: Jez Butterworth
MPAA Rating: [R] sexuality, nudity, language, violence
Genre: Drama/Thriller

A lonely bank teller (Chaplin) who solicits a Russian mail order bride (Kidman) gets more than he bargained for when her criminal intentions come to light.

What's Good
Nicole Kidman delivers an impressive performance
Kidman also sexes things up as a hot, frisky vixen

What's Bad
glaring lack of suspense and thrills
highly predictable story with virtually no surprises

Reviewer: Andrew Manning (02/02)

Birthday Girl is a movie that depends on one element, and one element alone: its leading lady, Nicole Kidman. Though the story is completely predictable from beginning to end, the versatile actress brings the goods in force, making an otherwise bland film spring to life. Hot off the heels of Moulin Rouge and The Others, she delivers a great performance and a load of sex appeal.

Deciding his life needs a little something, a lonely bank teller named John (Ben Chaplin) searches the internet for the girl of his dreams. Through the wonders of technology, he hooks up with a Russian mail order bride named Nadia (Nicole Kidman) who flies to England to live with him. Though she's beautiful and smart, Nadia doesn't seem to know any English beyond "yes," making communication difficult. But John's misgivings yield to the fact that his saucy new girl is all about the sex. In lieu of talking, she's more than willing to drop the foreplay and start knockin' boots. And like some dreamgirl from a porno fantasy, she even indulges John's fetish for light bondage, and brings him adult magazines as heartfelt gifts. A sexy vixen who brings porn and kink, and can only say "yes"? Hell, where do I sign up?

But paradise is not perfect for long. On the night of Nadia's supposed birthday, two Russian men show up claiming to be acquaintances. One thing leads to another, and they eventually force John to rob the bank he works at. The rest of the movie is about John running from the law and questioning the trust he should invest in Nadia.

The most impressive thing about Birthday Girl is Nicole Kidman's handling of a foreign language: her Russian and eventual Russian-accented English are thoroughly convincing. In fact, her biggest obstacle is being Nicole Kidman, in that we know she's an actress. But putting that aside, it's easy to get caught up in her being the character rather than playing a character. I don't speak Russian, but I can say there wasn't a single moment where I thought, "This is bogus," as I do whenever I hear a Kevin Costner accent. And Kidman never seemed to let her accent disappear and reappear as did, for example, Shannon Elizabeth in the American Pie films (playing yet another Nadia, no less).

In addition to flawlessly selling herself as a Russian, Kidman also delivers the sex appeal. And she is indeed looking tight in this movie. Shortly after arrival at John's house, she's promptly "handing" out the love, getting her bump-and-grind on, letting him tie her up, and flaunting her butt for our viewing pleasure.

Kidman and Chaplin also share a certain comical chemistry. On two occasions, they get into brawls with each other--and they both fight like girls. Once the face slapping begins, you can almost hear the dueling banjos. These Stooge-fests, John's constant sarcasm, and one of the Russians' obsession with video games all give the movie a quirky sense of humor.

The story, meanwhile, is an easily recognizable standard complete with the "hooker with a heart of gold" stereotype. And considering this is supposed to be a crime thriller with deception and double crossing, there's a glaring lack of suspense and surprise twists. The villains are comical more often than not. And John's bank robbery is hollow and generally unbelievable: he walks into the building with a pair of guitar cases without raising suspicion, and when he has to face his subsequent troubles with the authorities, the whole thing is explained away when Nadia says they will understand if he explains the situation to them. Mental note: When the law catches up with you, tell them your mail order bride tricked you into committing grand theft, and everything will be okay.

Birthday Girl is more of an indie flick than its trailers suggest, not a twisted game of backstabbing as one might expect. But despite the lack of action and thrills, it's worth a watch--especially for anyone who is a fan of Nicole Kidman.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)

Related Material
Movie Review: The Others (Nicole Kidman)
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