Oct. 1 2010 12:00 AM

Noomi Rapace sizzles while Playing With Fire

At the end of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” the brilliant computer hacker Lisbeth Salander seemed to be on her way to a life of luxury. Alas, the tables are turning as “The Girl Who Played With Fire” begins, and soon Lisbeth, who once tracked down a killer by operating on the outskirts of the law, will find herself hunted and harassed.

“Fire” is adapted from the second book in Swedish author Stieg Larsson’s phenomenally successful “Millennium” trilogy, and its tone and pacing are decidedly different from “Tattoo.” While part of that may be attributed to a change of directors — Daniel Alfredson replaces Niels Arden Oplev — “Fire” is also a more traditional story than “Dragon,” with Lisbeth (played once again by surly stunner Noomi Rapace) relying on her wits to stay a step ahead of the authorities while racing to unravel a mystery that’s tied to her miserable childhood with a weak mother and a ferocious father.

Like Jodie Foster in “The Silence of the Lambs,” Rapace is small in stature and looks as if she’d be easy to push around. But those who underestimate her do so at their own peril: Not only is this woman devilishly clever, she’s also a fierce fighter, someone who’s spent much of her life simply struggling to survive.

In “Dragon,” she had a partner (and part-time lover) in magazine publisher Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist). He returns in “Fire,” although he and Lisbeth barely even see each other this time around, communicating primarily through e-mail. That’s something of a disappointment since the contrast between the thoughtful, mild-mannered Blomkvist and the volatile, quick-witted Lisbeth was one of the most engaging aspects of “Dragon.”

Without their in-person interaction, “Fire” comes across as slightly cold and fla vorless, progressing from one plot point to another without any unusual flourishes or unexpected touches. It’s a less involved tale than “Dragon” and it’s a little less involving, too.

While the police chase Lisbeth for questioning in three murders — one of the victims is her unforgettably slimy and perverted “guardian” Nils Erik Bjurman (Peter Andersson) — Lisbeth is chasing down a phantom known as Zala, a crime boss with ties to prostitution and human trafficking rings. As Larsson fans already know, Zala also has a connection to Lisbeth, which sets the stage for the trilogy’s concluding chapter, “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” (opening in the U.S. later this fall).

“Fire” is an efficient thriller on its own terms, but what makes it truly special is the redoubtable Rapace. Having given us the basics of Lisbeth’s character in “Dragon,” she embellishes the personality, showing how a frightened little girl evolved into a woman who moves like a feral cat and strikes like lightning.

She’s both an offbeat avenging angel and a born enchantress; no wonder we’re drawn like moths to her fire.

The Girl Who Played With Fire

tonight and Thursday, Sept. 23 at Hannah Community Center, 819 Abbot
Road, East Lansing; 7 and 9:15 p.m. Friday, Sept. 24 and Saturday, Sept.
25; 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept.26 in Room 107, South Kedzie Hall, Michigan
State University $7 adults; $5 seniors; $3 students (517) 980-5802

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