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One Night Stand

movie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: One Night Stand

Starring: Wesley Snipes, Nastassja Kinski
Director: Mike Figgis
Rated: R
RunTime: 103 Minutes
Release Date: November 1997
Genres: Drama, Romance

Review by Steve Rhodes
2½ stars out of 4

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 romantic troubles.

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

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