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LYNN NEARY, host:

It's been pretty hard to go anywhere this summer without seeing someone reading one of the books in Stieg Larsson's bestselling "Millennium" trilogy, "The Girl Who" books, as they are sometimes called, have become a publishing legend.

And their popularity is now repeating itself in movie theaters. The film version of "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" has made more than $100 million worldwide. This weekend, the second film in the trilogy opened. It's called "The Girl Who Played With Fire." Bob Mondello has a review.

BOB MONDELLO: We pick up computer hacker Lisbeth Salander a year after we left her in "Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" on a Caribbean island, enjoying the fortune she's absconded with. She's about to confirm a tattoo removal appointment when she's interrupted by her real estate broker.

(Soundbite of film, "The Girl Who Played With Fire")

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) All right, Ms. Salander, I've bought the apartment in Stockholm, the one on (unintelligible). I've also arranged a post office box in Stockholm in the name of Wasp Enterprises.

MONDELLO: That post office box will cause problems later, but for the moment, all is clear as she leaves the Western Hemisphere and the English language behind to head for Sweden, where her partner from the first film is investigating a sadistic prostitution ring patronized by government bigwigs.

Shortly after her arrival, a savage series of homicides all but stops that investigation, with all clues pointing to her as the assassin. In the first film, her partner couldn't escape his face on newsstand headlines. In this film, it's Lisbeth's turn, as she tries to find and deal with whoever set her up.

(Soundbite of film, "The Girl Who Played With Fire")

Ms. NOOMI RAPACE (Actress): (As Lisbeth Salander) (Foreign language spoken).

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONDELLO: Noomi Rapace, who plays Lisbeth, seemed a supporting character last time, assisting a reporter as he investigated a family conspiracy with a connection to World War II. In "Girl Who Played With Fire," Lisbeth takes the lead, uncovering a different family conspiracy, this time involving the Cold War.

Where the earlier film was a mystery, this one's a police procedural, or rather a police-free procedural, since the authorities are almost entirely useless in novelist Stieg Larsson's Sweden.

You knew from the first film that Lisbeth played with fire. Here, you find out why, though for the longest time it's a hulking blond guy you wish could be kept away from matches.

(Soundbite of film, "The Girl Who Played with Fire")

(Soundbite of fire)

MONDELLO: Like most second parts of trilogies, this one is more or less all middle. It ends a bit inconclusively, and it's not as gorgeously filmed as "Tattoo," possibly because it and the third segment were handed off to a new director and screenwriters to be done on Swedish TV.

That's resulted in a certain reduced intensity. But the first picture's ferocity remains intact here, as do its fetishes regarding political corruption, sexual violence and the riveting Noomi Rapace, whose leather-clad, bisexual feminist is as compelling as ever, a battered-but-unbowed avenger for the art house crowd, playing with fire both literally and metaphorically.

I'm Bob Mondello

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