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Heat up with The Girl Who Played With Fire 

It's not often that I fail to review a movie as major as this past spring's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but that's the peril of being away on vacation. Lest I be accused of being remiss in my duties, though, let me rectify that now: This Swedish import, in which disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkist (Michael Nyqvist) and punkish hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) work together to solve a decades-old mystery, is a three-star effort, an absorbing watch that's smart in its handling of its characters and the overall picture yet often sloppy when it comes to connecting the dots.

So! With that out of the way, we come to The Girl Who Played With Fire, the second in the late author Stieg Larsson's "Millennium trilogy." Roughly on par with its predecessor, this one finds Mikael investigating a sex-trafficking operation while Lisbeth continues to try to get her tragic life in order. But after the investigation results in a trio of grisly murders, the police settle on Lisbeth as the killer; Mikael of course realizes this is absurd and sets out to clear her name by nabbing the real culprits.

Mikael and especially Lisbeth are such memorable characters that a satisfactory feeling emerges as we watch these two continue to evolve on screen. Rich as a character study and riveting as a thriller, the pleasures of The Girl Who Played With Fire only subside toward the end, as the connections between some of the players seem strained (not quite "Luke and Leia are siblings?" territory, but still ...) and the final standoff feels anticlimactic in comparison to numerous earlier confrontations. But despite these quibbles, the series is 2-for-2 — now let's see if The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest can bring it home.

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