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The Disappearance of Alice Creed

If there's one thing about film festivals that I enjoy most, it's the opportunity to watch actors accustomed to lavish sets, personal trailers and assistants work in a more practical environment and with decidedly more dangerous material. Thanks to the wonderful programmers at the annual Tribeca Film Festival, I got to see Matthew Broderick and Brittany Snow get delightfully debaucherous in 2008's riotous Finding Amanda and Chris Klein and Elijah Wood question their patriotism in the 2007 existential drama Day Zero, taking risks and showing audiences sides of themselves that Hollywood rarely allows.

This year, there's no shortage of name recognition on the TFF schedule. I was particularly excited to see J. Blakeson's The Disappearance of Alice Creed, primarily because of its cast of bankable performers but also because of its intriguing -- if familiar -- premise about a pair of ex-cons who kidnap a rich man's daughter, only to get entangled in a web of lies and double-crosses before they can cash out.

Unfortunately, I re-learned the hard way that you cannot judge a book by it's cover. Mr. Blakeson was incredibly lucky to catch Gemma Arterton (Clash Of The Titans, Prince of Persia: The Sand Of Time) and Eddie Marsan (Hancock, Sherlock Holmes) in between super-sized productions, because without performers of their caliber inhabiting two of the three roles in the film, it would've completely crumbled as a result of his formulaic and predictable screenplay. It's not the dialogue that ruins the movie; it's the forced twists thrown into the narrative that unearth more weaknesses than revelations.

The film begins with a procedural look at Vic (Marsan) and Danny (played with tense insecurity by Martin Compston) as they prepare for the coming kidnapping, meticulously sorting out every detail in cold silence. Blakeson leaves the actual abduction of Alice (the stunning Arterton) to the imagination, probably because the cruelty and horrific nature of the events that follow are traumatic enough to his audience. As we learn more about Vic's all-too-common plan, the aforementioned twists begin to unfurl, handicapping the suspense by making this heightened cinematic situation a victim of plausible but cheap coincidences. From this point on, The Disappearance of Alice Creed becomes a rather conventional crime thriller; I guessed my way from scene to scene all the way through the end credits.

The film's victims, in fact, are its most endearing aspect. Though Alice's broken relationship with her wealthy father serves as the catalyst for Vic an Danny's actions, don't assume that she's just another rich damsel in distress. Arterton gives the character resourcefulness and an inner strength that should be noted by aspiring young actresses. The 24-year-old Brit is a fearless performer who, despite her blockbuster status, shows that she isn't afraid to get gritty in the harshest of scenarios. With her facial features and body language, she conveys the primal terror that Alice experiences with total sincerity. Even more impressive is Marsan, who is frighteningly fierce as the brains and brawn of an operation that he hopes will provide him enough cash to start a new life. The stakes are high, and he never loses sight of the finish line or breaks from his character's terrifying persona, even in the face of deceit and defeat.

Though the film's sharp cinematography and coarse production design will keep you visually engaged, The Disappearance of Alice Creed falls short as a casualty of cliché. It borrows generously from other works within the genre, be it Ron Howard's Ransom or Rob Reiner's Misery, and sadly doesn't give anything in return, making for an awfully average and prescribed moviegoing experience. rated this film 2 stars.