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Initially, Criminal Lovers seems like a Gallic Natural Born Killers, as Alice and Luc butcher a fellow student who has provoked Alice's interest. The gradual disclosure of the couple's sexual pathology makes their act less irrational but also weirder. As these remorseless thrill killers drive off into the countryside to dispose of their victim's corpse, Alice becomes upset when Luc runs over a rabbit: "We have to bury it." It's not long before the quarrelsome children are lost in the forest and stumble across a version of the witch's gingerbread house. In Water Drops, Ozon donned the mantle of R.W. Fassbinder. Here, he does something at least as tricky in creating a contemporary, tabloid Hansel and Gretel.

Criminal Lovers may be as gimmicky as Ozon's other features, but it's also more resonant and even haunting. Natacha Regnier, last seen here in The Dreamlife of Angels, is bizarrely confident and mercurial as the disturbed Alice. Her nerdy accomplice, as hypnotized by her bare legs as he is repulsed by her sexual bravado, is played by Jeremie Renier, the boy in La Promesse. (Both are Belgian; that Renier is about a decade Regnier's junior provides additional subtext.) The ogre in the woods is embodied by the terrific, and here terrifying, Yugoslav actor Miki Manojlovic.

The pair's fairy-tale captivity is interspersed with flashbacks so that the initial murder is replayed mid-film to even more disturbing effect. Some of the revelations are overdetermined, as in Alice's enthusiasm for Rimbaud and the visual references to Psycho that introduce Luc. If the most Hitchcockian aspect of the movie is the way Ozon exploits and confounds spectator sympathies, the most Ozonian is its movement from claustrophobic nightmare to pure dream state. Down to Luc's dog collar, the climactic love scene might have been swiped from an X-rated Bambi.

Brute force: Sabouret and Servais in Rififi
photo: Rialto Pictures/Photofest
Brute force: Sabouret and Servais in Rififi

Details

Rififi
Written and directed by Jules Dassin from the novel by Auguste Le Breton
A Rialto rerelease
Film Forum
July 21 through August 3

Criminal Lovers
Written and directed by Franois Ozon
A Strand release
Quad
Opens July 21

X-Men
Directed by Bryan Singer
Written by David Hayter
A Twentieth Century Fox release

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It ain't saying much but, when it comes to stoopid fun, X-Men could be the summer movie to beat—it's nearly as enjoyable as avoiding The Patriotand The Perfect Storm. The running time is compact, the action is acrobatic rather than explosive, and the adolescent rage is considerably more wholesome than that of Criminal Lovers.

Launched by Marvel Comics in 1963 as "The Uncanny X-Men" and initially drawn by the great Jack Kirby, the X-Men were the original teenage mutant superheroes. The movie is true to its source—at least for being comic-book snide and smoldering with high school resentment. Director Bryan Singer has found his own level. Indeed, X-Men begins more or less where his political pulp puzzler Apt Pupil left off—with Ian McKellen flashing back to the gates of Auschwitz.

So far as the mutants go, the movie spends too much time dwelling on the problems of glowering Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and tremulous Rogue (Anna Paquin), but even here the romantic self-pity has a Cheez Doodle airiness. Ray Park's Toad is more convincing than his Darth Maul. His intercontinental ballistic tongue brought down the house at the all-media screening, although the movie's most alarming effect is surely Halle Berry's white plastic wig.

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