In the very first minutes of "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo," we learn a few pivotal facts about our hero, Mikael Blomqvist. A news report informs us that the middle-aged male protagonist is a reporter, called "a beacon of journalistic integrity," who penned a revealing expose on a top bureaucrat, only to see his sources vanish without explanation when said power-broker's lawyers came calling. The news report is downbeat, concerning Blomqvist's impending prison time as an unfortunate occurrence, since he's also the head of a popular, well-respected publication in the film's Swedish setting. Immediately we now know three things:
2) Mikael Blomqvist is a lone wolf!
3) Mikael Blomqvist is a martyr!
If you need a little more before your protagonist seems like a fully-rounded character, then perhaps "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" is not for you. Adapted from a series of popular suspense novels from Sweden, this first effort (directed by Niels Arden Opley) in an already-filmed trilogy hits stateside with the promise of being the next "Da Vinci Code"-like phenomenon. Like "The Da Vinci Code," the film is slack, dull, over-long, poorly made, and just plain retarded. We're guessing the heat surrounding the project stems from the exoticism of seeing an elaborately ridiculous conspiracy story rendered in another language, because "Tattoo," which concerns itself with Nazi evil (!), is just another heavy-breathing hatefest designed for the cheap seat sudoku players.
As the wheels on this overlong, pretentious piece of garbage begin spinning, Blomqvist is three months away from prison when his superjournalism is needed by the wealthy Vanger family. Vanger isn't just a name, but rather a legacy of hate, exclusion and financial rule. The family's beloved 16 year old Harriet Vanger hasn't been seen in four decades, her closest relative continues to receive the same package on his birthday annually, rare flowers that a hobbyist like Harriet would undoubtedly be fond of. Believing the mail is coming from her murderer, the family offers Blomqvist infinite resources in order to learn the identity of the killer. Why they don't just allow Blomqvist to track where the mail is coming from is another mystery entirely.
Blomqvist dives headfirst into his research, though he soon learns the perpetrator might not only have been a member of the Vanger clan, but they might also still be lurking, and a series of dangerous encounters suggests the more powerful Vanger representatives are not happy about the unearthing of their past, which involves Nazis and white supremacists. While Blomqvist seems spurred on by memories of being a little boy that Harriet once babysat, he's not prepared to learn that she might also have been aware that a killer was on her scent, and she may have actually left a series of letter-and-word-based clues and ornate number systems in a small diary to deduce the trail of victims our motive-less killer has left. Or, rather, he is prepared, because he's a man of action, and no twist is too absurd or ridiculous for his complex mind!
The eponymous girl, if you must know, is "movie" computer hacker wiz Lisbeth Salander, a Tourette's-afflicted goth girl who can hack into (sigh) literally any computer system in the world within minutes. Her back story is provided in the film's beginning, where we learn a childhood of violence has forced her to report to a probation officer who viciously rapes and abuses her. Halfway through the second long, interminable rape sequence, the urge to walk out on this repugnant, excessive and in no-way-relevant torture scene will be strong, but fortunately, it happens around the 45 minute mark, and some theaters still offer refunds if you split within the first hour. If you stay, be warned-- she who is raped rapes right back. And how! This impossibly cruel, stupid subplot wraps up early, its intention to show us, hey, dude, this bitch is messed up. Her prize for overcoming her abuse and mistreatment is a chance to become Blomqvist's plucky sidekick and occasional sex object. Oh, and did we mention she has a busty live-in girlfriend too? The random focus of the title probably has something to do with the source material's actual (no, really) original title: "Men Who Hate Women."
The obsession with codes and numerology is one of the more bizarre new millennial zeitgeist grabbers. Through "Moneyball" to "The Da Vinci Code," it's almost as if viewers have been desperate to grasp systems, order from chaos in fractured times. Does this explain the scene where our hero deduces from Harriet Vanger's haunted last video images that she was looking straight at her killer because she squints in that general direction? Not really. All the way through it's altogether uninspired serial killer climax, everything about "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" is secondhand pop psychology, a poor excuse to delve into the same mass murderer tropes that Ed Gein and his ilk have been fueling for decades. This wouldn't be especially galling had the finale, and the revelation of the flowers, not been such a howler of a revelation. With such an ineffectual resolution, "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" finally distinguishes itself from the equally retarded "The Da Vinci Code," in that it's got a longer run-time. Early word is the sequels are worse. We can't imagine. [D-]