Black Book ***

Posted: April 20, 2007

Written by Gerard Soeteman and Paul Verhoeven, directed by Verhoeven. With Carice van Houten, Sebastian Koch and Thom Hoffman. In Dutch, German and Hebrew, with subtitles. Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics. 2 hours, 25 mins. R (violence, sex, nudity, profanity, the Holocaust, adult themes). Playing at the Ritz Five and Ritz Sixteen/NJ.

Returning to the Netherlands for his first film since 1983's The Fourth Man, Paul Verhoeven brings much of what he plied in Hollywood to a tale of Nazis, Jews and the Dutch resistance. Namely, the director of Basic Instinct and Starship Troopers brings over-the-top sex and action to the proceedings, turning this World War II thriller into an enjoyable, though wildly incredible, cloak-and-dagger caper.

Or in the case of the lovely Carice van Houten, un-cloak and dagger. A Jewish refugee who becomes a Mata Hari for the Dutch resistance, van Houten's leggy heroine infiltrates Gestapo headquarters - and a Gestapo officer's bed. Using her wiles, smiles, and lingerie, Rachel Stein, alias Ellis de Vries, seduces Nazi bigwig Ludwig Muentze (The Lives of Others' Sebastian Koch) in order to help a band of freedom fighters.

But things get complicated when (1) a mole tips off the Germans, and (2) Rachel-alias-Ellis falls for Muentze, and vice versa.

Most everyone is fit, handsome and dressed in fine period clothes. Scenes of interrogation, torture and annihilation are interposed with lusty sex and breakneck chases. Ostensibly based on "true events," Black Book doesn't let the grim facts of the Holocaust get in the way of some ripping pulp.

- Steven Rea

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