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movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Lolita

Starring: Jeremy Irons, Dominique Swain
Director: Adrian Lyne
Rated: R
RunTime: 137 Minutes
Release Date: September 1998
Genres: Drama, Romance

*Also starring: Melanie Griffith, Frank Langella, Suzanne Shepherd, Marta Balletbo-Coll

Review by MrBrown
2½ stars out of 4

After seeing Adrian Lyne's much-talked-about screen version of Vladimir Nabokov's _Lolita_, I can easily see why it's taken the better part of two years for the film to find an American distributor--but it's not for the reasons you might think. Lyne's take on the classic tale of pedophilic lust is just about the opposite of what one would expect from the director of bankable, tawdry zeitgeist-tappers _Fatal_Attraction_ and _Indecent_Proposal_. It is nicely composed, careful, tasteful... to the point of frigidity. For all the taboos it covers, _Lolita_ is strangely staid and uninvolving piece of work, a film whose only commercial prospects with in the manufactured controversy surrounding it.

Unlike Stanley Kubrick's blackly comic 1962 version of Nabokov's novel, Lyne and screenwriter Stephen Schiff take a stately approach to the controversial story. This works for the general setup, especially the elegant prologue, in which the sexual proclivities of professor Humbert Humbert (Jeremy Irons) are explained: when he was 14, he was deeply in love with a same-aged girl who eventually fell ill and died; ever since, he has lusted over nyphets. Flash forward to 1947, and Humbert finds his ultimate object of desire in Dolores Haze, a.k.a. Lolita (Dominique Swain), the feisty 14-year-old daughter of Charlotte (Melanie Griffith, her shrillness working for once), the widow in whose home he rents a room. To remain close to Lolita, Humbert impulsively marries Charlotte, which sets off a chain of events that leads to Humbert taking stepdaughter Lolita, now his very willing lover, on wild road trip across America.

Once _Lolita_ hits the road, Lyne's glacial style keeps the audience at a distance and saps just about all the energy from the film. The film soon settles into a cyclic stop-and-go rhythm where Lolita's naturally childish behavior incenses Humbert, he pines for her, she uses it to her advantage and gets him back, only to anger him again. Lyne is understandably discreet with the sexual encounters between Humbert and Lolita, and his adherence to taste is admirable. However, the most effective moments in _Lolita_ are those where Lyne doesn't play it safe and dares to unsettle the audience, which is what he's built his entire career on. Particularly effective is a disturbing scene where a mad--with lust, and in the literal sense--Humbert tries to fuck a confession out of a hysterically laughing, lipstick-smeared Lolita. It's a creepy scene, one bound to get under moviegoers' skin. But it's likely the only one that will elicit any type of emotional reaction from the audience--not even the inevitable tragic conclusion packs much of a punch, if any.

What makes _Lolita_ all the more disappointing is that it is clearly less than the sum of its parts, which all-too vividly display signs of life the entire film the could have had. Irons gives a beautifully nuanced performance; while the audience is repulsed by his actions, one cannot help but have some understanding for what he feels and why. The then-15-year-old Swain, who went on to co-star as John Travolta's Lolita-ish daughter in _Face/Off_, more than holds her own, playing Lolita as equal parts victim and vixen. Ennio Morricone's score is hauntingly sensual, as is the soft lensing of cinematographer Howard Atherton. It's unfortunate that their superlative work is in the service of a mediocre vehicle.

With films such as _Fatal_, _Indecent_, and _9_1/2_ Weeks_ under his belt, Lyne seems to pride himself on making provocative films about sexuality. _Lolita_ should have been the most provocative of them all; all the individual ingredients were in place for a thoughtful, daring, yet nonexploitative work. Alas, his _Lolita_, with its distant earnestness and leisurely pace, might as well have been a Merchant Ivory production. (airs August 2 on Showtime; "officially" opens in theatres September 25)

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