WALK ON WATER — ** 1/2 — Lior Ashkenazi, Knut Berger, Caroline Peters; with subtitles; rated R (profanity, violence, nudity, vulgarity, brief drugs, racial epithets).

"Walk on Water" is as unpredictable as it is heavy-handed, a dramatic thriller that clearly revels in attacking what the filmmakers perceive as racism, homophobia and other prejudices.

At times the film is a bit too strident and seems more determined to push its agenda than tell a story. But every time you think it's going that direction, it promptly heads in another.

Ultimately, the result is a bit of a mixed bag. And as frustrating and overbearing as parts of the film are, the inability to pin it down completely does makes it all the more watchable. And some solid characterizations help.

Israeli heartthrob Lior Ashkenazi stars as Eyal, an Israeli intelligence officer who's been in a funk since his wife's suicide. So his bosses send him on what's supposed to be an easy assignment.

Eyal has been told to pose as a guide for Axel Himmelman (Knut Berger), a German tourist in Israel to visit his sister, Pia (Caroline Peters), who has converted to Judaism and is living in a kibbutz.

His bosses believe the two may know something about the whereabouts of their grandfather, Alfred (Ernest Lenart), a long-missing Nazi war criminal. So they want Eyal to spy on the siblings, and, if possible, to find and kill the old man.

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However, Eyal starts to enjoy the company of the kind-hearted Axel and Pia, which fills him with doubts about his line of work and causes him to reconsider some of his harsh feelings toward Germans and homosexuals (as it turns out, Axel is gay).

As conventional as its "two-years-later" coda may be, the film earns it by refusing to go the expected, easy route until that moment. Filmmaker Eytan Fox pulls out a shocker near the end that isn't what you're probably expecting.

Ashkenazi has a gruff charisma (he looks like an Israeli version of Clive Owen), and he and Berger work well together. Fresh face Peters also makes a surprisingly strong impression, considering she's not onscreen for very long.

"Walk on Water" is rated R for occasional use of strong sexual profanity and some sexually suggestive talk, violence (brawling), some full male nudity, brief drug content (use of a hypodermic needle), and use of racial epithets and ethnic slurs. Running time: 104 minutes.

E-mail: jeff@desnews.com