'Flawless' loses a few points on clarity

There's nothing swinging about the 1960s London where Demi Moore, as an ambitious diamond company exec named Laura Quinn, finds herself in the engaging, if flawed, Flawless.

A heist picture, a feminist revenge fantasy, and an excuse for Michael Caine to re-deploy his Cockney accent as a wily old janitor, Flawless finds the actress in sharp, smart business attire, using a mid-Atlantic accent (she's a U.S. ex-pat, educated at Oxford and long residing in England), and spending her off hours alone in her apartment, having a meal, a cigarette and listening to jazz.

The Beatles, Darling, minidresses and mods - not part of Miss Quinn's equation. All she cares about is advancing her career at the London Diamond Corp. But after bumping her head on that glass ceiling - less qualified, less experienced male colleagues keep getting the managerial spot she deserves - it's time for some payback.

Actually, it's Hobbs, Caine's hunched-over custodian, who presents Quinn with the plan: He has figured out how to access the company's subterranean, steel-encased vaults - Hobbs is down there in the dead of night, mopping and sweeping - and how to steal enough shiny little multifaceted, multi-carat gems to make them both millionaires.

Directed by Michael Radford (White Mischief, Il Postino) in a suitably classy, unflashy manner, Flawless offers the unexpected turns of a good thriller, but is compromised here and there by awkward, out-of-character moments (Moore's Quinn is cool and composed in one scene, inexplicably frazzled and panicky the next) and plot twists that are just a bit much. (The elegant businesswoman slogging through the London sewers with a faulty flashlight? Please.)

But Moore gives an interesting performance, crafty, quiet and sexy in a buttoned-up way. Caine, pushing his cart around and not missing a trick, isn't exactly doing any heavy lifting, but his Hobbs is likable and full of surprises, too. If the screenplay's tumultuous machinations - trouble in the South African diamond mines, sinister insurance company double-dealing - seem a bit strained, well, they are.

And the filmmakers' narrative device of framing Quinn's tale as a feature-length flashback doesn't pay off - we get a goody-two-shoes moral lesson at the end, and a look at movie studio aging makeup gone wild.

Flawless **1/2 (out of four stars)

Directed by Michael Radford. With Michael Caine, Demi Moore, Joss Ackland and Lambert Wilson. Distributed by Magnolia Pictures.

Running time: 1 hour, 40 mins.

Parent's guide: PG-13 (profanity, adult themes)

Playing at: Ritz Five

Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://go.philly.com/onmovies.