Director Laurence Malkin's "Five Fingers" is intended to be a psychological thriller that examines the shifting morals in the war on terrorism. But the predictable plot "twists" and unintentionally funny dialogue kill any shred of suspense, shock or meaning in the film.
Martijn (Ryan Phillippe) is a Dutch pianist with a banker day job who travels to Morocco to "help the people and to make a difference." Shortly after arriving, Martijn and his British guide, Gavin (Colm Meaney), are taken hostage by a group of terrorists. Blindfolded and tied to chairs, the two men argue over how to handle the situation.
Of course, the terrorists are listening to the whole conversation, and are no doubt as amused as we are when the British guide says, "We're not American. I didn't even vote for Tony Blair!"
It's not long before the group's leader, Ahmat (Laurence Fishburne), removes Martijn's blindfold, kills the smart-mouthed Gavin, and begins a cat-and-mouse game with his remaining hostage.
The next scene opens with Ahmat interrogating Martijn while they play a game of chess. The clumsy metaphor for their battle of wits is driven home by Ahmat who compliments Martijn on his chess skills and then comments, "Most Americans can't play chess to save their lives."
Save their lives — get it?
Martijn admits to Ahmat that he's a pianist. At that point it's obvious that he'll either need a new fingering technique or have to take up the harmonica if he ever gets out alive.
About three severed fingers into the film, it becomes clearer that Martijn has been hiding something all along and that the terrorist aren't quite what they seem either.
Everything is revealed at the film's end, but the final plot twist loses its punch when it's followed by more heavy-handed symbolism. A milkshake in a trademark red and yellow cup and the Statue of Liberty are involved
Fishburne and Phillippe do the best they can with lines that unintentionally had the audience at the screening I attended in stitches.
At one point Ahmat asks Martijn, "Do you think all Muslims are gay?" and Martijn replies, knowingly, "I saw 'Lawrence of Arabia.' "
Later, a terrorist plan is discussed that will bring down "Halliburton, Dow Chemical and … McDonald's!" One plot involves poisoning fast food with a strain of bacteria — certainly not a laughing matter.
But it was hard not to crack up as the character gleefully described the tainted "hamburgers, french fries, shakes and Happy Meals." What should have been a chilling moment in the film was just plain goofy instead.
Terrorism is a very serious subject. It's surprising that a film which does little to explore the topic intelligently was screened at a festival created in the wake of the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.
"Five Fingers" stars Laurence Fishburne, Ryan Phillippe, Gina Torres, Touriya Haoud, Said Taghmaoui and Colm Meaney. Running time: 95 minutes.