Michael Caine, "The Statement"

Make no mistake about it, Michael Caine is a fine actor. But under no circumstances is he even remotely believable playing a Frenchman, which is only one of numerous problems with "The Statement."

To their credit, the makers of this thriller try to cover up that bit of miscasting by having the cast go accent-free. In fact, they surround Caine with an assortment of British actors (including Tilda Swinton, Jeremy Northam, John Neville, Frank Finlay and the late Alan Bates) — all of whom are also supposed to be Gallic, despite their lack of accents.

As you can guess, it seems a bit ridiculous. But there are a lot of ridiculous things about this clunker.

For one thing, none of the characters are all that likable, interesting or sympathetic. And that's a detriment that even this cast can't overcome.

Worse, the film is rather unbelievable, even though it's based on real-life tales of the Vichy Milice, a group of French sympathizers who actually worked with the Nazis during World War II.

Caine stars as Pierre Brossard, a former Milice leader who ordered the execution of seven Jews in 1944. When the war ended, Pierre escaped detection — if not justice — thanks to his connections with local Catholic Church leaders. But a half-century later, it appears his luck has finally run out.

Pierre is smart enough to foil an assassination attempt but now he's being tracked by Annemarie Livi (Swinton), an ambitious judge who wants to bring him to trial, with help from a sympathetic officer (Jeremy Northam). However, as they get closer to catching Brossard, the two also discover evidence of a cover-up and conspiracy, which puts both their careers and lives at risk.

Given that the story is based on real-life incidents, there is potential here, but director Norman Jewison never manages to generate any suspense, and the supposed mystery at play here couldn't be more obvious.

That leaves a heavy burden on Caine, the film's star. However, while he is seriously miscast as a Frenchman, his performance is somewhat compelling — at least more so than any of the others.

"The Statement" is rated R for strong scenes of violence (shootings), brief gore, and scattered use of strong profanity and ethnic slurs. Running time: 120 minutes.

E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com