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Birthday Girl (October 15/02)

After the incredible success of two films featuring Nicole Kidman (Moulin Rouge and The Others), it seemed as though she could do no wrong. Well, with Birthday Girl, she proves that's not exactly true.

Kidman stars as Nadia, a Russian mail-order bride ordered by a meek Englishman named John (Ben Chaplin). John's expecting a woman that speaks English fluently, but soon discovers that Nadia doesn't understand a word. Still, John wants to make it work and the two slowly begin to develop a relationship based mostly on sex. But their idyllic paradise is rudely interrupted by the arrival of Nadia's two Russian friends (played by Vincent Cassel and Mathieu Kassovitz). Though their intentions initially seem friendly enough, John's soon forced to steal a hefty amount of money from the bank he works at in order to prevent them from harming Nadia. After doing so, he discovers that he's been the victim of a double-cross and Nadia was in on the whole thing all along. But, this being a silly romantic comedy, Nadia soon has a change of heart and winds up tossing aside her wicked ways in favor of a relationship with John.

Birthday Girl is pretty much the definition of mediocre. It's not bad, really, but it's certainly not good either. It limps along until reaching its predictable conclusion, remaining watchable due mostly to the acting. Kidman, who spends a good portion of the first half silent, leaves no doubt that she's a movie star - proving to be an invaluable presence even when she hasn't a word of dialogue. Ben Chaplin is good in the thankless straight-man role, but he's often overshadowed by Kassovitz's and Cassel's flashy performances. Cassel, in particular, is a lot of fun as a headstrong thug. He's a huge star in Europe for good reason; hopefully he'll eventually find a better crossover vehicle than Birthday Girl.

All in all, Birthday Girl certainly could've been worse - it could've starred Eric Roberts and Cynthia Rothrock - but with these stars, it really should've been a lot better.

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