DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

The Swedish journalist and author Stieg Larsson was barely 50 years old when he died in 2004, before the publication of his three violent mystery thrillers known as the "Millennium Trilogy." The books became hugely popular worldwide and quickly were made into Swedish movies. The third of those, "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" opens today in the U.S.

Film critic David Edelstein has this review.

DAVID EDELSTEIN: As "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" confirms, Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy is even more draggy on the screen than in print. Yet even in this medium, it exerts a peculiar pull: Larsson was that rare mass market novelist whose paranoia wasn't even a little bit driven by commercial opportunism. His career as an investigative journalist convinced him that conspiracies weren't the stuff of theories, but the bedrock of a malevolent social order.

And women - when they weren't jumping into bed with his alter ego, the indefatigable Larsson-like journalist Blomkvist - were especially vulnerable. In three books -�every kind of predator except vampires turns up to menace the damaged, bisexual, heavily pierced cyber-girl with the dragon tattoo, Lisbeth Salander; sadistic pedophiles perverts; neo-Nazi serial sex murderers; ex-KGB, burn-scarred, insanely vindictive patriarchs; and my personal favorite, a mute, Teutonic albino giant, genetically impervious to pain.

In "Hornet's Nest," the conspiracy to silence Lisbeth Salander reaches to the highest levels of the Swedish government. But the bad guys mostly go after her through bureaucratic channels, and it takes an inordinately long time to get where we already know we're going.

Larsson is renowned for his attention to marginal detail, which gives his prose a rambling, one-thing-after-another pace that many readers find oddly soothing. The director of films two and three, Daniel Alfredson, captured this distinctive lack of acceleration at the climax of "The Girl Who Played with Fire." As Salander, played by Noomi Rapace, sneaks onto a rural estate to kill the father trying to kill her; Blomkvist, played by Michael Nykvist, speeds out of Stockholm to save her - and gets caught in traffic. Salander pokes perilously around the property while Blomkvist takes the highway exit at the posted 25 miles an hour. Salander gets jumped by the albino; Blomkvist stops to check his map. The villain aims his gun at Salander, and Blomkvist turns into a McDonald's drive-through. Not really, but he might as well. And after all that, the bad guys don't even die.

So here we are at part three, the "Hornet's Nest," and as in the last movie, Blomkvist and Salander barely share a scene. Having been beaten and shot, Salander spends most of the film's 148 minutes in a hospital bed, glaring in mute outrage. I don't blame her. She took an ax to the father who'd shot her and whose albino henchman is on the lam and killing cops, and she's being prosecuted? For attempted murder?

The bad guys, see, want her in an asylum under the care of her old fascist pedophile shrink. Blomkvist muses that it's like a classic Greek tragedy -which strikes me as delusions of grandeur. It's not even clear what Salander knows that makes the hapless cabal of really old men want to silence her. A sympathetic doctor says she's not well enough to talk to prosecutors, so weeks go by while they sit on their hands outside Salander's hospital room and she writes a memoir of her abuse. Oprah could get to her faster than the villains.

The first film, "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," directed by Niels Arden Oplev, at least hit its marks: Salander's cyber-hacking complemented Blomkvist's shoe-leather reporting, and vice versa. And the two outcasts' growing bond - and revenge on multiple foes - was fun to watch. But the next films are like interminable footnotes. The only thing of interest in "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" is Noomi Rapace, and only in the last half hour, when she hauls herself out of her hospital bed.

Rapace has a striking face to begin with, all sharp angles and flat planes. And now, she wears a towering Mohawk and a nose ring. She's pierced all over, her eyes and lips rimmed in black, looking like a cross between Grace Jones and Edward Scissorhands. In the context of these pale Swedes, she leaps out of the screen without 3-D glasses.

But talk about all dressed up with nowhere to go. It's like Halloween night on C-SPAN.

BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine.

Coming up, I switch to TV critic mode and review the new AMC zombie series "The Walking Dead."

This is FRESH AIR.

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