Point of No Return
There’s a moment during lovingly frivolous action thriller Point of No Return (1993) in which our heroine, a wild child turned assassin (Bridget Fonda), contemplates her life while watching Deception (1946), a typically extravagant Bette Davis vehicle. Spotlighted is the latter movie's most famous scene, a scene that finds Davis gunning down a man, played by Claude Rains, who threatens to destroy a current romantic relationship with the revelation of a dark secret. The film noir display, note-perfectly frantic and melodramatic, parallels the kind of entertainment Point of No Return hopes to imitate itself: shameless escapism unafraid to cater to the lowest common denominators of our intelligence.
And since it’s a slick, energetic, and competently made would-be blockbuster, we don’t have any remorse in our enjoying it so wholeheartedly. It’s fuzzy-headed, sure, but it’s also effectually death-defying and electrically photographed. It’s pulpy diversion that finds a deft balance between cheese and convincing crowd-pleasing, and not a moment passes by in which we aren’t unabashedly involved in the emotional workings of the plot.
Point of No Return stars Fonda as Maggie, a scrappy street tough who’s recently devolved into the nearly catatonic worthlessness of a junkie. As the film opens, we find her, along with a gaggle of insipid thugs, attempting to rob a convenience store. But because all perpetrators are high and without much of a plan, things go awry quickly, the law intervening without thinking twice.
Maggie’s motionless standing by might have gotten her in a trouble easy to recover from. But when she thoughtlessly shoots a cop in the haze of a drug buzz, the government declares that she’s unfit to be a functioning member of society. In a ludicrous turn of events, she is sentenced to death.
But after attending her trial, a spy, only going by the name of “Bob” (Gabriel Byrne), sees potential in Maggie. He helps fake her own death, and brings her to his shadowy headquarters in the Washington D.C. underground. Once there, she's provided with an ultimatum: she can either give up her life of small-time crime and train to become a governmental hitwoman, or she can go right back to the confines of prison and, once again, wait to get shot up with poison and die a slow, painful death.
Without a good excuse in her pocket, Maggie throws caution to the wind and begins the process of recreating the makeover sequence in The Princess Diaries (2001) with a The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996) twist. In no time, she's the femme Nikita of America (quite literally: Point of No Return is a remake of the 1991 Luc Besson classic) – but her comfortability with her newfound identity is perhaps shakier than her sense of self when she was a drug-addled nightmare.
And this worsens when she relocates to Venice, California and tries to live as normally as possible while still moonlighting as a killer for hire. She makes the mistake of meeting J.P. (Dermot Mulroney), an apartment house manager who crawls under her skin in ways no other man has before. Their relationship grows from curious to serious within the lapse of two shakes of lamb’s tail, and this causes Maggie to decide that she wants out of the killing biz, and fast.
That doesn’t sit well with the agency who “rescued” her from her tainted past, and they’ll do anything to stop her from attaining the normalcy she’s never had.
But while much of Point of No Return is essentially a carbon copy of La Femme Nikita, which was simultaneously effortlessly cool and detachedly melancholy, it doesn’t have its same sense of bizarro world realism that made the original such a masterpiece of the action genre. It underlined its sequences of suspense in a very real sense of loss – you could feel the French Maggie’s heart shriveling every time she took the life of another.
Point of No Return, by contrast, is strictly escapist – Fonda’s performance, while effective, is a shallow brand of tragic (think Raquel Welch as Hannie Caulder in 1971), and the slabs of carnage swirling around her are more akin to an Arnie showcase than something substantial.
But its lightweightness shouldn’t suggest that it isn’t good at what it does. Consider Point of No Return, for all its slightness, to be a superior product of the Hollywood machine. It isn’t much of a game-changer of its genre, but it’s fun and it’s satisfactory, the movie you see on a warm summer evening without expectations of high art. Life can’t be spent strictly with movies as silly as this one, but a dash of its emptiness tastes good once in a while. Take it in at the right time and you’ve got yourself 101 minutes of pleasure. Having Fonda at its beck and call doesn’t hurt, either. B