Dr Richard Walker (Harrison Ford) and his wife Sondra (Betty Buckley) have traveled from San Francisco to Paris where he is going to give a lecture to conference delegates. They arrive at the hotel feeling jetlagged, but once settled in they call room service for some breakfast and each take a shower. The sole cloud on this otherwise contented morning is that Sondra has picked up the wrong suitcase from the airport, but that should be easily remedied with a phone call. However, while Richard is in the shower, she takes a call from the front desk and when he emerges, she has gone. He thinks little of it - but maybe he should be very concerned indeed...
It would be nice to think that the impetus behind Frantic was due to co-writer (with frequent collaborator Gérard Brach) and director Roman Polanski seeing all these up and coming new French talents crafting their hugely stylish romances and thrillers and thinking, wait a minute lads, this is how it's done. Sadly, for much of the time there is an oddly drab impression given by the thrills in this, in that they're not really thrilling at all, and whenever anybody loses their composure there's little sense of the pulse rates of the audience going up as everything else comes across as so cool and collected. Even when Richard realises that his wife has been kidnapped, a sense of urgency is missing.
That's not to say that Frantic does not pass the time agreeably, it's just that the imagination and cruel humour you might have expected from this writing duo are absent except in fits and starts. Short scenes such as the one where Richard visits a nightclub on a lead and finds a Rastafarian (Thomas M. Pollard) who tells Richard he knows he's looking for the "white lady" do turn farcical - the Rastafarian was talking about cocaine, not the kidnap victim - but they're swamped by a dour, plodding sensation throughout the rest of the film. The whole notion of an American abroad and lost without knowing the language is deflated by the fact that every non-American who counts speaks English.
Sure, it would have been a lot longer film if nobody could understand what Richard was saying, but it would also have upped the tension and panic in an experience which goes some way away from living up to its title. Rather Polanski prefers a low key method that was presumably intended to layer on the suspense by increments, but actually by the time the story is over, it still hasn't reached its potential full speed ahead. There is an interesting relationship at the heart of the film, and that's not the one between the doctor and his wife as Buckley is in this for about five minutes, if that, it's the one between Richard and the drug smuggler he crosses paths with in his investigation.
She is Michelle, played by Emmanuelle Seigner, soon to be the over twenty years his junior wife of Polanski, and she has attitude to spare. Some have criticised her performance yet she is entirely appropriate in her pouty, Michelle's only in it for the money characterisation and provides a much needed spark, not to mention glamour, to the second half of a film that is beginning to drag about an hour in. For the nightmare, naturally the authorities can be no help, and Richard becomes a man on the run from the law and the bad guys (hmm, a man on the run: where does Polanski get his ideas?), but for quite a lot of the time Frantic looks like a "let's humiliate the American" exercise, in marked contrast to say, Luc Besson's take on similar events in Taken twenty years later. There are amusements here, but it's too dry overall. Music by Ennio Morricone.
French-born Polish director who has been no stranger to tragedy - his mother died in a concentration camp, his pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate, was murdered by the Manson family - or controversy - he was arrested for raping a 13-year-old girl in the late 1970s.
Polanski originally made an international impact with Knife in the Water, then left Poland to make Cul-de-Sac and Repulsion in Britain. More acclaim followed with Rosemary's Baby and Chinatown in Hollywood, but his work after escaping America has been inconsistent. At his best, he depicts the crueller side of humanity with a pitch black sense of humour. He also takes quirky acting roles occasionally.