millennium_fslme-2011-1“The Girl Who Played with Fire,” much-anticipated follow-up to “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” is much like one of Sweden’s other great exports—the IKEA Billy bookcase system. It has lots of pieces, but not all of them fit.

The story picks up a year after “Dragon Tattoo”” left off. Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) is back in Sweden after lamming it around the world. She’s been deep undercover; not even Mikael Blomkvist  (Michael Nyqvist) knew where she was or what she’s been up to. Of course as soon as she touches down on Swedish soil her life gets complicated and by extension so does Blomkvist’s. She becomes the main suspect in a triple murder and Blomkvist, trying to get to the bottom of the case encounters human traffickers, Russian gangsters, motorcycle thugs, drugs and even a brute with an unusual genetic disorder. These people lead very dramatic and dangerous lives.

Despite the large number of story shards and characters “The Girl Who Played with Fire” is much more straightforward than “Dragon Tattoo.” It’s cluttered yet simplistic, stretching every plot point past its breaking point. Long meaningful stares are traded, dialogue that sounds torn from the Hardboiled Crime Writers Almanac is exchanged and tepid action ensues, all leading up to a “Murder She Wrote” climax where everyone spills the beans. It’s a disappointment because even at well over two hours “Dragon Tattoo” was gripping and exciting but at just over two hours “Fire” feels much longer. It is not as taut as “Dragon Tattoo” or as interesting.

One of the things that made “Dragon Tattoo” so compelling was the partnership (and budding relationship) of Blomkvist and Salander. We watched as they became the Swedish “Hart to Hart,” battling the bad guys and perhaps even developing feelings for one another, but save for the occasional e-mail “Fire” keeps them apart and the movie suffers in the absence of their chemistry.

Salander, the punk rock computer hacker with, surprise (!), an attitude, is one of the better female characters to come along in recent years, but “Fire” blunts her effectiveness. She spends endless hours hiding in her apartment smoking Camel cigarettes when she should be out kicking butt. Where’s the fierceness from the first film?

The film looks good—director Daniel Alfredson keeps the austere look of the first film intact—but on a technical note some of the subtitles are hard to read—white letters on white backgrounds are not a good idea!

By eliminating the book’s emphasis on systemic sexism and homophobia in favor of a basic crime story “The Girl Who Played with Fire” has none of the dramatic oomph of the first film. Worse, it has managed to make the main characters, so appealing in the first film, less interesting.