Ben Chaplin, Nicole Kidman, ...

As Nadia, Birthday Girl‘s Russian chick and mail-order bride shipped to the suburbs of London for a timorous English bank clerk, Nicole Kidman lustily embraces the smeared-mascara side of her talents — the gritty-girl ferocity that’s winning the porcelain-cool actress such an appreciative fan club this season. And if British writer-director Jez Butterworth had let his sophomore picture get as dirty as Kidman’s game recklessness invited — she started this before ”Moulin Rouge” and ”The Others” — he would have served up a tasty piece of cake.

But as it is, this slice is underspiced English vanilla. For all the zany business built into the story (including a bank robbery and teases of bondage sex), this is an effortfully decorated romantic caper in which Ben Chaplin, as the shy hero, mats his hair down with Loser Gel and stares inertly to convey his dilemma about whether to stay good or live it up bad.

Meanwhile, somewhere on a European planet, audiences may be really excited to see leading French filmmaker and ”Amelie” star Mathieu Kassovitz whooping it up with fellow French star Vincent Cassel (”Brotherhood of the Wolf”) as Nadia’s rogue cohorts. The two yak raucously in Russian and wave guns around, a couple of Gallic headliners as relatively invisible here as Steve Buscemi and Vince Vaughn might be in Paris.

Birthday Girl
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