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The Passenger 

Nicholson plays a television journalist back when the job was still considered meaningful and exciting. Though we are never given a reason, perhaps it's a sign of the profession's eventual collapse into tedious predictability that Nicholson's David Locke is bored with his life and so switches identities with the first dead white guy he comes across. Today his game would be up the first time he logged back onto MySpace, and so such a scenario would more likely be made into a comedy. But at the time such a thing was still believable, and in Antonioni's hands, it's a slow-burn suspense thriller.

Nicholson's character thinks he is in the clear, only momentarily looking back in regret at his old life. The problem with his new identity is that he happens to have been running guns to rebels in an African nation, where he has made some ruthless people very angry. The rest of the movie becomes a game of cat and mouse — albeit with very, very leisurely cats and mice — as Nicholson roams Europe with Schneider, unaware he's being followed. Think of it as "The Bourne Identity" on 'ludes. There's even a moment of martial arts, '70s-style, of course — a kick to the midsection followed by a karate chop to the neck — both moves a lame blind man could fend off.

Though not as deliberate as Antonioni's earliest work, "The Passenger" makes "Blow Up" look like MTV by comparison, and it takes some getting used to. This is not the director's best, but its unconventional pacing and curious staging at least make it interesting. And of course Jack's fans will be satisfied. As always, he plays himself to perfection. S



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