Americans tend not to buy ambiguity and amorality in bulk, so it's not surprising that "Ripley's Game" skipped U.S. screens and went straight to DVD. But this blackhearted little Euro romp from director Liliana Cavani ("The Night Porter") deserves a better fate than as a lone copy battling for your attention on a lower shelf of the new-release section.
Novelist Patricia Highsmith's urbane, amoral criminal Tom Ripley returns; as played by John Malkovich, he's older and wiser than his last on-screen appearance in Anthony Minghella's 1999 "The Talented Mr. Ripley," retired and living a life of affluent married ease in an Italian villa. When former partner in crime Reeves ("Sexy Beast's" Ray Winstone) resurfaces looking for someone to do some discreet wet work, Ripley kills two birds by siccing him on Jonathan (Dougray Scott), a mild-mannered, terminally ill fellow ex-pat and total tool who insults his sinister neighbor at a party. While Ripley is cold-hearted enough to ruin what's left of Jonathan's life by turning him into a murderer, it turns out he has his standards, too. The twists and turns that follow somehow leave you rooting for a mincing, murderous creep.
More a character study than a pro forma thriller, Ripley's Game diverts in large part by finally finding the perfect vehicle for Malkovich's late-period camp ickiness. It's all about Malkovich pedaling a bike while wearing a beret, Malkovich macking on his character's hottie harpsichordist wife (Evelina Meghangi) and literally kissing her ass, Malkovich setting bear traps for unwanted visitors as if setting out petits fours and then threatening to run over some generic Slavic thug's head with a tractor "for the rest of the day!" Malkovich triumphant.