Hard-drinking, burnt-out ex-CIA operative John Creasy (Washington) has given up on life--until his friend Rayburn (Oscar winner Christopher Walken) gets him a job as a bodyguard to nine-year-old Pita Ramos (Dakota Fanning). Bit by bit, Creasy begins to reclaim his soul, but when Pita is kidnapped, Creasy unleashes a firestorm of apocalyptic vengeance against everyone responsible.
Style trumps substance in Man on Fire, a slick, brooding reunion of Crimson Tide star Denzel Washington and director Tony Scott. The ominous, crime-ridden setting is Mexico City, where a dour, alcoholic warrior with a mysterious Black Ops past (Washington) seeks redemption as the devoted bodyguard of a lovable 9-year-old girl (the precociously gifted Dakota Fanning), then responds with predictable fury when she is kidnapped. Prolific screenwriter Brian Helgeland (Mystic River, L.A. Confidential) sets a solid emotional foundation for Washington's tormented character, and Scott's stylistic excess compensates for a distended plot that's both repellently violent and viscerally absorbing. Among Scott's more distracting techniques is the use of free-roaming, comic-bookish subtitles... even when they're unnecessary! Adapted from a novel by A.J. Quinnell and previously filmed as a 1987 vehicle for Scott Glenn, Man on Fire is roughly on par with Scott's similar 1990 film Revenge, efficiently satisfying Washington's incendiary bloodlust under a heavy blanket of humid, doom-laden atmosphere. --Jeff Shannon