Sequel to ‘Dragon Tattoo’ is a mostly smart actioner

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Life+Style Editor

Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace)
SWEDISH FISH | Lesbian and slightly loco, Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) sets out to clear her name and exact some revenge in ‘The Girl Who Played with Fire.’

3 out of 5 stars
Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist.
Rated R. 105 mins.
Now playing at the Angelika Film Centers

There’s more to the popularity of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy — three novels written in rapid succession but unpublished until after the author’s death in 2004 — than Nordic settings of American-style crime fiction, although there’s certainly a pulp sensibility to his plotting. Larsson writes about arcane subjects, but unlike Dan Brown, there’s nothing sexy or even hot-button exciting about his topics (business intrigue and sex trade, for instance). They’re also nothing like Dan Brown in that he writes, by and large, well.

So what accounts for the huge popularity, not only of Larsson’s books (he was the second-bestselling author worldwide in 2008) but also of the movies of his books goes beyond prurience and into legitimate cult. The Brits have Jane Tennyson and Prime Suspect; the Swedes have Lisbeth Salander.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the first movie of a series made in Sweden last year, is the biggest foreign-language film in the U.S. so far this year; the second installment, The Girl Who Played with Fire, hopes to follow in its footsteps.

Serials have become so common nowadays in movies — from Star Wars to Harry Potter — that most filmmakers barely even try to fill you in on what’s happened already, but you don’t need to be a fan to enjoy or even follow it … though it wouldn’t hurt.

Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace) is the lesbian ass-kicking computer whiz with a mysterious past. She’s suspected of three murders, but the only person who thinks she’s innocent is Miske Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), a crusading journalist who takes a fatherly interest in her. Lisbeth remains on the run while she hunts down shady men from her past.

There are dark alleys and menacing blond behemoths in the tradition of cheesy Hollywood actioners like Lethal Weapon — there’s even a racy girl-on-girl sex scene — but without huge a budget or big-name stars, it’s largely tone that carries the day. And the tone here is Eastern Promises by way of Lost: Moody, but despite the sex and violence, TV-friendly.

It veers dangerously into camp with unlikely twists near the end, but Rapace’s fearless performance and the cool, smart intrigue make it seem like a throwback to paranoid political thrillers of the 1970s. Add a little disco music and Liza at Studio 54, and like reliving your childhood with adult eyes. And nobody gets burned.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 9, 2010.