[box cover]

La Femme Nikita: Special Edition

On its release in 1991, many critics compared La Femme Nikita to G.B. Shaw's Pygmalion — with Eliza Doolittle, in this case, being a street-wise junkie punk named Nikita (Anne Parillaud). A gunfight erupts during an attempt by Nikita and her gang of fellow ne'er-do-wells to rob a drugstore, and everyone's left dead except our young Eliza; after her trial, she's offered a chance to avoid prison by joining an elite government group that specializes in political assassinations. At first, Nikita seems an odd choice for government work — but agents have been watching her for some time, and it turns out that behind her vacant eyes and gutter-punk clothing, the girl's got a wealth of street skills. She also has something going for her that's even more valuable — no noticeable moral compass (a requisite for trained killers). The first half of the film is a fascinating examination of her transformation from crazed street kid to trained assassin as the first of her tutors, an agent named Bob (Tcheky Karyo), gives her a general education in the finer points of spying, including martial arts and the handling of high-end weapons. She's then handed over to Amande (Jeanne Moreau), who transforms Nikita into a woman of the world, teaching her how to dress, use makeup, and comport herself in public with class. Transformed into a modern-day Mata Hari and armed with Amande's advice that there are "two things that have no limit: femininity and the means of taking advantage of it," Nikita starts fulfilling her assignments with deadly precision. But her transformation has a downside — it seems that Nikita is now open to softer feelings of love, which arrive in the form of a cute supermarket checker named Marco (Jean-Hugues Anglade) who, naturally, knows nothing about what Nikita does for a living. Director Luc Besson (The Professional, The Fifth Element) has a real affinity for sullen, androgynous girl-heroes, and La Femme Nikita works best during the transformation segments of the film — Parillaud is at her most interesting when she's feral and sullen, trapped by circumstance into training with the manipulative Bob. But taken as a whole, the film — which was remade as the tepid 1993 Point of No Return and inspired a TV show — is a fresh spin on a fairly predictable genre, with Besson punching up all the expected twists and throwing in a few of his own for good measure. Nikita, simply put, kicks ass. MGM Home Video's Special Edition disc (which replaces an earlier DVD release) offers a decent anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) — the source-print can be a little grainy, but it looks very good nonetheless. The new French Dolby 5.1 audio is excellent; also available is a dubbed English track in DD 5.1, plus subtitles in English, French or Spanish. The English subtitles are less than completely satisfactory, not always synching well with the action on-screen, which can be occasionally distracting. Extras include a featurette on Eric Serra's soundtrack featuring new interviews with some of the principals; a nice 20-minute "making-of" featurette; a lame "Programming Nikita" interactive map that offers quick clips from the movie for no good reason; the theatrical trailer; movie-poster stills; and a fairly unimpressive Easter egg. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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