Sleeping With the Enemy
The Thomas Crown Affair is a cool, slick, sexy and highly enjoyable caper movie that takes your mind off the heat while providing some pretty torrid temperatures of its own. Remakes are always a bad idea, but have you seen the dated 1968 original, directed by Norman Jewison, with Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway? I mean, have you seen it lately? I’m sorry to say that despite McQueen’s hustler glam, nothing about it holds up. A silly plot, in which he plays a Boston millionaire who robs a bank out of boredom, is further mired in corny symbolism (building sexual tension by licking their fingers and suggestively stroking the rooks and kings in a heavy-breathing game of chess), pretentious camera work (a kiss that caused a big stir at the time now seems lingeringly laughable), and glossy imagery fragmented into annoying, and seemingly interminable, split-screen nonsense. Obviously the whole thing needed a complete overhaul for this refurbishment 30 years later, and that’s exactly what two-fisted action director John ( Die Hard ) McTiernan has done.
Debonair Pierce Brosnan is not as dangerous, rebellious or edgy as Steve McQueen, but Rene Russo can act circles around Faye Dunaway, and rolling around naked together they generate a lot more sexual passion than any scene between the Cruise-Kidman team in the geriatric Eyes Wide Shut . It’s a rare example of a re-tread that is a solid improvement over the first assembly-line model. A lot is riding on these tires.
Re-tailored for Brosnan’s suave GQ cover-boy beauty, the title character is no longer a bank robber, but a risk-taking, lady-killing tycoon who masterminds the elaborate theft of a $100-million Monet from a major museum in broad daylight with virtually the entire staff of security guards in attendance. Ms. Russo plays the curvaceous bounty hunter hired by the museum’s insurance underwriter to catch the thief for a hefty percentage of the value recovered. To this end, she will stop at nothing.
When breaking and entering doesn’t work, she resorts to outsmarting him in bed, a career ploy she has no trouble using and is obviously experienced at. Being a slut is a small price to pay for a lifestyle of limitless wealth and luxury that includes chauffeured limos, diamond thank-you gifts on the breakfast tray and a romantic weekend interlude in a secluded villa overlooking the sea in Martinique. What happens, of course, is that the cat-and-mouse seduction turns serious; while they’re matching wits and nerves they inadvertently fall in love, and for a film that is basically a genre piece, The Thomas Crown Affair gains strength from an unexpected focus on the intimacy of the love story. He’s so cynical from his business dealings that he doesn’t trust anybody; she’s so much smarter than the predictable wimps she’s devoured for hors d’oeuvres in the past that she’s given up trying to find a man who is her equal. The sex is hot, but it’s only a matter of time before one of them lowers their guard and betrays the other.
He ends up willing to risk everything for her; she ends up trying to ruin him, then save him. Nothing works out exactly as planned. Clearly, they have finally met their match in each other, and we lean forward, afraid to exhale, waiting to see how and if they can change. The resolution is only possible with the replacement of the Monet to the scene of the crime under security surveillance that is even more gruelingly suspenseful than the opening heist, and there’s a spectacular finale in a museum filled with suspects all wearing identical bowler hats that is almost as entertainingly amusing as it is intense.
Purists may wince at director McTiernan’s affectionate use of the original film’s hit song, “Windmills of Your Mind” by Michel Legrand and Alan and Marilyn Bergman, and some may grouse that the plot is identical to the recent Sean Connery flick, Entrapment . Don’t let minor caveats deter you. This is a steamy, clever, fascinating and gorgeously designed romp that delivers a very good time indeed. The two museum sequences are expertly lensed, the dialogue snaps with clever repartee, lusty undertones, and veiled innuendo and the two stars have never been more appealing.
Rene Russo should be one of the biggest stars in the business. She is randy, elegant, tough, gentle, funny and smart, while Mr. Brosnan’s groomed coolness extends his James Bond persona to deeper levels of nuance than he’s typically allowed in the formula scripts he’s usually stuck with. Both of them look terrific, in and out of their trendy designer clothes. (They also perform an erotic tango that will fog your lenses and make your eyebrows sweat.) Some interesting people decorate the scenery in small parts (Denis Leary, Fritz Weaver, Ben Gazzara, and Faye Dunaway, star of the original film, as Mr. Brosnan’s hard-boiled shrink) and the whole thing has been so skillfully directed that it all seems perfectly plausible.
The Thomas Crown Affair is this summer’s most refreshing surprise–a Sixties movie for a Nineties sensibility. Think Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman with computers.
Not Safe to Go to the Theater
In Deep Blue Sea , Jaws meets Alien in an underwater research lab where a lady Frankenstein has been performing some nasty, mean-spirited experiments on sharks, enlarging their brains to produce more protein to find a cure for Alzheimer’s. Now the world’s oldest living predators are thinking ! Tired of having their brains probed with needles and lasers, they’re fed up (no pun
intended)and who could blame them? So they go loopy and Cuisinart the whole lab and everyone in it. One by one, the cast is turned into prime porterhouse, with action-thriller director Renny ( Die Hard 2 , Cliffhanger ) Harlin heaping on the gore while ravenous, man-eating sharks grind arms, legs and torsos into bloody blue-plate specials. It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature. Sharks with genius IQs can turn on you and even make bad movies.
While the inhabitants of the floating lab scurry for safety, a massive hurricane strikes the sea above, flooding the lab and freeing the sharks from their prison cells. Meanwhile, the acting looks like a lunch break on the set of Waterworld , with a lot of people trashing their reputations trying to escape. Saffron Burrows, an actress of appalling ineptitude and one pouty expression, plays the lady scientist with no help from Mr. Harlin (breathe a sigh of relief, Geena Davis, this could have been you !). Blond hunk Thomas Jane (most recently seen locking tongues with Vincent D’Onofrio as the gay hustler in The Velocity of Gary ) plays the brawny shark wrangler with a prison record who tries to save the survivors amid explosions, storms and plummeting fireballs. Also on hand are Samuel L. Jackson, who sniffs around the shark tank in golf attire and white sunglasses, never taking one minute of anything seriously, and hip-hop artist L.L. Cool J, as a Bible-quoting cook with a pet parrot, who has described his role in interviews as “Robert Duvall’s The Apostle meets Chef Boyardee.” They are awful.
But this is not a movie about acting or dialogue or plot or character development. It’s a big, loud, scream-a-minute shark-picnic rip-off of Jaws , beefed up with special effects and shameless pandering to Steven Spielberg’s classic. Director Harlin doesn’t even bother to legitimize his hack work with any originality of his own; the opening sequence shows a sailboat of necking teenagers getting chewed and chomped while blood flows like cheap muscatel. For all the carnage, the film is surprisingly shallow and slow between shark attacks, and for all the money spent on technology, the computer-generated carnivores with teeth like railroad spikes look like mechanical props at Disney World. But if cheap thrills are all you crave, don’t bother to bring coffee. There’s plenty of adrenaline pumping in this chamber of horrors to satisfy B-movie freaks who were bored with Wild, Wild West and Lake Placid . See it with someone you don’t mind grabbing.
It Is Naked Boys, More and Less
Question: How many naked boys does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: At least the entire cast of Naked Boys Singing! , the surprise hit revue that is packing them in down at the Actors’ Playhouse in Greenwich Village.
The title is self-explanatory. Eight buffed and butt-naked guys, with camera-ready bods and perky personalities to match, sing and dance their way through 16 musical numbers dedicated to stripping you of your inhibitions in a glorious celebration of the altogether. I’ll be darned if they don’t succeed. After the initial shock wears off, you get so accustomed to the nudity that it no longer gets in the way of the entertainment. The effect is strangely liberating. It’s only 90 minutes long, and by the time it’s over, you’ll feel overdressed in a tank top.
Thirteen collaborators (including Bette Midler’s chief writer Bruce Vilanch) are responsible for the songs and skits, ranging from ribald to poignant, all neatly directed by Robert Schrock and choreographed by Jeffry Denman, although I am still trying to figure out why Carl D. White is credited with “costume design.” You go in wondering how many numbers they can dream up in which nudity is appropriate and marvel at their ingenuity. In addition to the steam bath number, the nude calendar-modeling number and the pornography number, there’s an entire aria consisting of the different synonyms for male genitalia. In a song called “Robert Mitchum,” a sad sack, sympathetically out of his element among the bodybuilders at the gym, sweetly wishes he had lived in the days before collagen and hormones when a droopy-faced icon like Mitchum could be a sex symbol. The innocence is ingratiating, even when eight naked men singing “I Beat My Meat” turn out to be butchers.
Some of their talents are bigger than their plumbing and the result is more (and in one or two cases, less) than you might hope for. The material is clever, but I doubt if many people will show up to discover new songwriters. But you get used to the nudity the way your eyes get used to the dark in a power failure, and after a few numbers it’s no different from watching a chorus line of hairy Ziegfeld Girls. The women in the audience did not look like Chippendale’s veterans, but they applauded louder than anyone. I tell you, these naked guys do, pardon the pun, make a point. I saw Naked Boys Singing on a night so hot you could fry an egg on your kneecap, and they were the coolest people in the theater.