Alice is using this skill to navigate into the inner circle of Russian magnate Ivan Rostovsky (Tim Roth), who in turn is attempting to con this pretty genius into his bed. This may be subterfuge of some sort, since not only does Rostovsky sport the most intimidatingly over-prepared security detail, but Roth himself seems to be playing his character like a snake. His head-bobbing runs against the pattern of his accent ducking and weaving in and out of his voice like a punch-drunk pugilist, slouching as if he is wearing a jacket five sizes too small. Perhaps the intention is Rostovsky is so used to this song and dance of courting alluring prospects for his shady business endeavors that the very act of seduction seems like a chore.
The spy activities in this film are so low-key and professional that we don’t even realize that Liobov has broken rank and attempted to seduce Alice. Amusingly, one of the film’s jokes is that he eludes his own team’s shoddy surveillance in order to take her to bed, the two of them so smitten with each other that they easily get over the suspicion that there’s something pretty spy-ish about this good-looking stranger. As their courtship intensifies, so does the surveillance, leading to one preposterous scene when he shares a phone call with her while in the same car as the eyes and ears of the operation.
“Mobius” is titled after the Mobius strip that connects in a way to ensure that one path will close upon itself without meeting at the starting point, a heavy-handed metaphor explaining the depth of Gregory’s cover within the dialogue. It’s just one of several on-the-nose exchanges meant to ignore that the action is impossible to follow, but to suggest that you should probably be paying more attention. Suffice to say, no one is in the driver’s seat exactly when they expect, leading to a collection of revelations that cast aside what we thought we knew as either ruse or inessential. It lacks artfulness, stranding our characters in situations that lack moral complexity but seem fueled by arcane plot developments that yield no fruit, other than fascinating anyone in the audience who doesn’t believe in a filmmaker’s ability to deceive.
Were there any thematic ideas beyond this game of spy one-upmanship, it would carry more weight. At least “Mobius” attempts to land on a good foot, sponsoring the illusion that the film all along was about the romance between Gregory and Alice. Dujardin and France are a gorgeous, glamorous couple, and as the film jumps between languages and locations, you stay fixated on the two of them, not because their characters have any exciting personality traits, but because these are a couple of movie-star glamorous performers in beautiful wardrobes frolicking in exotic locales. For as much story-heavy artifice one can pile onto a film, sometimes the pleasures can be enjoyably, nakedly superficial. [C]