Max Carlyle's soul is being eaten from the inside out. A happily
married man with a beautiful wife and two adorable kids, he strayed just
this one time a while back, and his life has never been the same since.
Although none of his friends or relatives know, he knows, and
his guilt has become unbearable.
Mike Figgis, the talented writer, director and composer of the
devastating LEAVING LAS VEGAS, takes on all three positions again in
ONE NIGHT STAND. Even though the film suffers from its aloof and
uninviting approach, the Figgis genius in staging scenes is very
evident albeit in frequently subtle ways.
Max, a wealthy, successful director of television commercials is
played against type by Wesley Snipes. Max gets stuck in New York
without a hotel room due to a UN 50th anniversary celebration.
(Earlier, he had made intense but innocent eye contact with a lovely
married woman named Karen in a hotel lobby.) Nastassja Kinski, who has
aged 5 years in the past 15, gives a sweet and delicate performance as
Karen, a rocket scientist -- really. Whereas Kinski once burst with
raw sexual energy, see CAT WOMAN for example, here she has a charming
innocence. Her reserved allure outshines Snipes, who spends more time
than necessary brooding.
Max and Karen end up going to a string quartet concert together
since she has a pair of tickets, and they are both without their
spouses. This is all on the up-and-up even if a bit risky given the
close proximity of two such attractive people. Figgis has them making
small talk in whispers at the concert. The beauty of the staging is
that we never hear a word they say, but their body language,
particularly in the way Karen tilts her head, shows the heaving
flirting going on.
All of this would probably have come to nothing had a mugging not
scared them badly, thereby bringing them together physically. The
intimacy of their hug speaks volumes about their feelings even when
their words deny it. Since she has a hotel room, she offers the spare
bed for him to sleep on until his plane leaves in the morning. "Look,
you just saved my life," she tells him since he did scare off their
attackers. "And we're both adults. We're both married. It is the
least I can do." When she wakes with nightmares that night, she
willingly does much more. With precise, ballet-like movements they
consummate their affair. Cutting in and out of the shadowy images,
editor John Smith and cinematographer Declan Quinn give the scene a
gossamer beauty than has a mysteriously asexual feeling.
When Max returns home still smelling of Karen's perfume, his world
has been forever turned upside down. His gorgeous and sexually
aggressive wife, Mimi, suspects him right away -- he's been smoking
again. (Well, yes, as a form of pre-foreplay with Karen, and not a
solo act as his wife assumes.) Although Mimi seems to know every
position imaginable, she suggests they rent a video to learn some more.
This makes the already morose Max even more depressed. How could he
not love someone this terrific?
Ming-Na Wen, the narrator and one of the leads in THE JOY LUCK
CLUB, gives a bold and brassy performance as Mimi, who makes Max's
guilt over cheating on her easy to empathize with. Ever confident Wen
steals all of her scenes with Snipes.
A subplot has Robert Downey Jr. as Max's dying, old friend
Charlie. Max goes to comfort Charlie who has AIDS. Although Max
specifically points out to the audience in the opening that he is not
gay, the story introduces some doubt. Downey, looking too well-fed for
the part, does an excellent job of acting a prolonged death.
The bifurcated movie would have been better served if it had
chosen one subject rather than two. Just when the infidelity aspects
start to become interesting, it switches to the hospital room. And
when the AIDS story starts to touch your heart, back we go to Max's
In a movie rich with minor characters, Kyle MacLachlan appears as
Charlie's homophobic and rubber-glove wearing brother Vernon. Vernon
frequents Charlie's hospital room and keeps a nervous smile on his face
most of the time.
The problem with the picture seems on the surface to be its
plodding pacing, but actually the defect has to do more with the
approach Figgis takes with the material. The rarely compelling movie
takes an ethereal attitude about much of the activities. Max's
troubles, for example, are never adequately connected to either his
infidelity or his dying friend. And everyone seems somehow removed
from the material even though all of their acting, with the possible
exception of Snipes, is good.
Copyright © 1997 Steve Rhodes