Directed by Tony Scott, starring Denzel Washington, Radha Mitchell, Marc Anthony, Dakota Fanning, Christopher Walken, Giancarlo Giannini, Rachel Ticotin and Mickey Rourke.

Already this year we've had 'Kill Bill: Vol 2', 'Walking Tall' and 'The Punisher' and the cycle of revenge movies continues with Shane Meadows' new film 'Dead Man's Shoes' and Tony Scott's latest.

Scott, it must be said, is not a director famed for onscreen subtlety. His CV includes 'Top Gun', 'The Last Boy Scout', 'Enemy of the State', the admittedly very cool 'True Romance' and now 'Man on Fire', which serves up loud bangs, grisly deaths and heavy symbolism in Mexico with some relish - and extra cheese.

Washington (who worked with Scott on 'Crimson Tide') is Creasy, a former soldier turned private contractor who's haunted by the past and invariably seeking answers at the bottom of a bottle. Drifting from one job to the next, Creasy is encouraged by friend Rayburn (Walken) to take up a job as bodyguard to a wealthy family in Mexico City.

Creasy's new employers are a factory owner (Anthony), his wife (Mitchell) and their daughter, Pita (Fanning), who has her protector's number from the moment he walks through the door. "Bodyguards gotta be close to people...I'm not good it that," explains Creasy. But all it takes is Pita's upcoming swimming competition and her gift of a St Jude's medal for his heart to melt.

Creasy's chance at happiness is, however, short-lived. He is shot four times and Pita is kidnapped, leaving him facing charges for the deaths of two policemen who just happened to be at the scene. A ransom drop-off is botched and the kidnappers subsequently claim they've murdered Pita. With yet another horror that he's unable to forgive himself for, Creasy decides to seek solace in what he does best: killing anyone that was involved.

With a running time of nearly two-and-a-half hours, Scott is, commendably, in no rush with the build-up to the kidnapping. We get Washington taciturn and charismatic, Mitchell interesting as the wife who may have a thing for Creasy, Mickey Rourke as a shady lawyer and Walken's deadpan cool - and hair - proving as exciting onscreen as ever. But once the bullets start flying, Scott ditches characterisation and plausibility, in favour of torture and imaginative forms of retribution.

It'll cross your mind more than once that as Creasy makes the job of Mexican census takers a lot easier, no-one seems to be looking for him. One high-ranking detective (Giannini) is happy for him to up the body count, while the crooked cops are content to sit around and wait for Creasy to come calling. David Mamet's recent 'Spartan' wasn't a great film, but it handled the central character's 'Searchers'-style quest 100 times more convincingly.

The gritty camerawork from 'Collateral' lensman Paul Cameron is excellent throughout, and Scott should be praised for a suitably downbeat ending. It's just a waste that everything leading up to it was so predictable.

Harry Guerin