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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 Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

The accepted wisdom about one-night stands is that they are virtually meaningless trysts between people who may or not be persons of substance. In the hands of Mike Figgis, though, the title takes on an ironic sense: the sexual rendezvous of two attractive human beings has a seismic impact on their lives and those of the people who love them by causing two generally superficial beings to re-examine their existence. While "One Night Stand" does not share the quality of Mike Figgis's masterwork, "Leaving Las Vegas," the picture carries some of his signature pointers. Like "Vegas," this film zeroes in on one character who is in desperate straits, in this case a man dying of AIDS, while bearing still another resemblance in highlighting characters who are at the most dramatic points in their lives.

Written originally by Joe Eszterhas who had Nicolas Cage in mind for the key role of Max, "One Night Stand" was overhauled by Figgis who retains full credit for its writing. Opening theatrically as Max (Wesley Snipes) addresses his audience directly to describe his shallow but busy life, the movie follows him as he walks down the familiar New York streets of his childhood, on the way to a meeting with an actor, Charlie (Robert Downey Jr.), with whom he once shared a deep friendship. Max describes himself as an advertising man, a successful one of about 35 years, who has a sense of guilt for abandoning his friendship with Charlie.

When Max misses his flight to L.A. because of traffic congestion, he meets Karen (Nastassja Kinski), who has called attention to an ink stain on Max's shirt and later joins her at a concert. The two are later mugged, and when Max fights off the felons, Karen invites him to share her quarters for the night. One year later Max, a resident of Los Angeles who is married to Mimi (Ming-Na Wen), returns to New York to visit Charlie, now hospitalized with AIDS, and coincidentally runs into Karen. What follows seems contrived but features a dramatic payoff that brings the entire work into sharper focus.

While "One Night Stand" does not have the edgy acting of Nicolas Cage and Elizabeth Shue from "Leaving Las Vegas," it is performed particularly well by Robert Downey Jr., who redeems himself from a disastrous role in the indie movie directed by his dad, "Hugo Pool." Like Eric Roberts in "It's My Party," the dying Charlie insists on setting up a party in his hospital room, his pals regaling him with gifts, laughs, and good cheer. While he looks deathly ill, he can elicit surprising laughs from the audience by the grimaces on his face, the most enduring being the expression he suggests when he sees Max locked in a passionate embrace with Karen who, it turns out, is Charlie's sister-in-law. In several well-developed and partly improvised episodes preceding this love-clasp, Figgis exposes us to the coming breakdown of Max's marriage to Mimi, who objects strongly to the way Max has been putting down the shallow people he works with in his ad agency. The humor of his job is effectively pointed out at a meeting in which the serious discussion of the day is how to get a public to become interested in having their hot dogs with their sponsor's sauerkraut. Still another prolonged and very funny episode finds Mimi suspiciously smelling Max, who had just returned from his one-night stand in New York, accusing him of misbehavior--which, she concludes, is proven by the cigarette smoke she sniffs on his clothing. Max has been caught: he has not really given up smoking.

Figgis knows how to back up the humor and pathos of his production with the right music, contrasting New York and L.A. not as Neil Simon did in "California Suite" but by differentiating the coasts by a jazz track to represent the East and pop music for the Hollywood set. Perhaps the most interesting subtext is the way race has absolutely nothing to do with the dynamics of the story. Max is black, his wife Asian-American, and his lover a dazzling blonde.

Copyright 1997 Harvey Karten

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