With her brother in jail and her husband, Henry Fool, missing and presumed dead, Fay Grim (Parker Posey) becomes wrapped up in a complex mystery involving treason and blackmail between Americans, Russians, Israelis and Arabs. Writer-director Hal Hartley's film is a continuation of 1997's "Henry Fool" and mines dry comedy from its elaborate setup.

Big question: Can "Fay Grim" find amusement and excitement in its casual approach to the style of flicks like "The Bourne Identity"--even for viewers who haven't seen "Henry Fool"?

Catch it: Hartley strikes a fine balance between the serious and the silly, playing on the overly complicated foundation that supports stories of international intrigue without being too smug. Not an easy task when you're blending chuckles with actual issues of fear, terrorism and global politics.

Skip it: If you can solve the code that Fay thinks may clue her into what's going on: "Ottoman-plus-Thanksgiving-equals-turkey-divided-by-wild-party-equals-?" Clearly, you already know where this is going. Right?

Bottom line: A two-hour espionage thriller grows wearisome when half the thing is a joke anyway, and all the complications don't add up to a clear payoff. But with smart, ironic humor and a confusing web of spy secrets, "Fay Grim" keeps you laughing and guessing at the same time.

Bonus: Henry offers viewers a foolproof defense of a seedy lifestyle: "That's just the way I am. I gravitate to the lowest common denominator on principle." It's always best to follow your instincts!

Matt Pais is the metromix movies producer.


'Fay Grim'

Directed, edited and written by Hal Hartley; photographed by Sarah Cawley Cabiya; production design by Richard Sylvarnes; produced by Hartley, Michael S. Ryan, Martin Hagemann, Jason Kliot, Joana Vicente. A Magnolia Pictures release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:58. MPAA rating: R (for language and some sexuality).

Fay Grim - Parker Posey

Fulbright - Jeff Goldblum

Simon - James Urbaniak

Ned - Liam Aiken

Juliet - Saffron Burrows

Bebe - Elina Loewensohn

Henry - Thomas Jay Ryan