14 August 2011 | gradyharp
CHAMELEON, we are told at the beginning of this film, is based on a true story about a French lad who disguises himself as other people as a way of gaining attention and 'love' which is apparently missing in his life as a near orphan. Written by Natalie Carter and writer/director Jean-Paul Salomé it misses the opportunity to use a factual story and transpose it to the screen in such a way that we care enough about the characters to become involved in the unfolding of this charade. Unfortunately the writing and the casting and directing work against this and the result is a surprisingly uninvolving, fairly boring tale.
Nicholas Barclay (Marc-André Grondin) has been missing since age 13, for reasons unclear to the town's people in Baton Rouge. LA. Nicholas shows up in Spain after an auto accident, is treated for PTSD and is mutely amnesic until he suddenly talks and lets the hospital people know that he is Nicholas Barclay, a missing person. He states he was kidnapped and forced into a child prostitution ring that involved rape, abuse and torture - the reasons he gives for his lack of memory. Nicholas's sister Kathy (Emilie de Ravin) spends her last money to fly to France to pick up her lost brother and return him 'home' - to his chain-smoking depressed mother Kimberly (Ellen Barkin in a surprisingly monotone, phoned-in performance), Kathy's husband Brian (Brian Geraghty) and his sociopathic brother Brendan (Nick Stahl). Nicholas's identity is not clear to his family, except for his sister Kathy who offers compassion and fights for Nicholas' rights: the others doubt that their Nicholas is alive because of events they know to be true. The FBI in the persons of Tory Kittles and Famke Janssen investigate, doubting that Nicholas is who he says he is. After a dysfunctional attempt to relate to most of his family, his story starts to unravel and the true story of what happened to Nicholas starts to emerge: 'Nicholas' is Frédéric Bourdin, who after having plundered all the centers for runaway minors and delinquents in Europe, even though he has come of age, now passes himself off as Nicholas Barclay, shaves his body hair, and attempts to a carry off another 'chameleon caper' in the US.
The cinematic aspects of the film fail to make the story involving: the colors are so washed out that it appears to be made on cheap film, the story is disjointed with such scenes as Nicholas shaving his body hair really adding little to the tale, the surprisingly dull performance by Ellen Barkin is a shock, and Marc-André Grondin is simply not up to making us realize the potential of this fascinating story. Famke Janssen and Brian Geraghty make the most of the roles they are given, but otherwise the cast is unremarkable.