I've never seen the acclaimed 1968 Norman Jewison caper romance, "The Thomas
Crown Affair," which top-lined Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway, and after
viewing this highly stylized 1999 remake, let's just say I'm not exactly
dying to rent it anytime soon. Old-fashioned, cliched, and considerably
uninvolving, the only aspect of the film that even remotely distinguishes it
from a mainstream '60s movie is the repeated exploitation of actress Rene
Russo's breasts. Don't get me wrong; at 45-years-old, she still looks
stunning, but when a film's story stops dead in its tracks simply to show
somebody nude for no apparent reason, you basically can sense that you're in
for the long haul.
When a famous Monet painting turns up missing at the Metropolitan Museum of
Art in New York City, Insurance Investigator Catherine Banning (Rene Russo)
is sent in to find the thief and retrieve the priceless work of art, with the
help of city investigator Michael McCann (Denis Leary). Ever notice how
sleek, catchy names like Catherine Banning and Michael McCann only exist
within the world of the cinema? Oh, how easy it is to get sidetracked.
Anyway, all evidence points directly towards billionaire playboy Thomas Crown
(Pierce Brosnan), so when Catherine begins snooping around and going out on
dates with him to seek out any information she can get, and to blatantly
steal his house keys right out of his pocket(!), imagine her utter shock when
she discovers that she is madly, hopelessly, deeply falling for him. Sex
ensues. So do some possible double-crosses. And so does a lingering getaway
to a secluded Caribbean island where Catherine lets it all hang out and she
and Thomas walk around in their birthday suits, and then go back to bed for
another roll in the hay. Yes, you heard that right. And yes, it's as tedious
as it sounds.
After a seemingly endless prologue which introduces us to Thomas Crown, a man
who "has it all," except an interesting personality, and features the
intricate theft of the Monet, edited at the pace of a legless 100-year-old,
Rene Russo enters the scene and breathes some much-needed life to the film.
Beautiful, sassy, and likable, Russo has returned after a long absence to a
lead role in an adult studio picture; It's just too bad it couldn't have been
a film in which the screenplay (ineptly penned by Leslie Dixon and Kurt
Wimmer) was thrown away and extensively rewritten with at least an ounce of
wit and flair. If there is one thing director John McTiernan does right with
this remake, it is that, once she enters the picture at around the 15-minute
mark, Russo instantly becomes the human focus of the story. Unfortunately, at
the one-hour mark, McTiernan throws the romance into high gear, but in the
process, concocts a series of unintentionally funny, totally unnecessary sex
scenes, and drops Catherine's IQ score by several points.
Tugging Russo's dignity down even more is her pairing with Pierce Brosnan, a
great-looking actor who nonetheless is as dull as a piece of chopped wood.
For the film to ultimately work, one of the most essential components is an
actor that is able to pull off Thomas Crown's intriguing qualities and
effortless allure. While Brosnan seems to have fun in his James Bond movies,
and therefore, is able to pull off that world-famous role, he is more or less
vapid here. I don't know; maybe it's because he knew the script was severely
flawed, as was the lackluster directing, and didn't have his heart into it
because of this. At any rate, it's decidedly better to make the best of what
you've got, rather than choose to play it dull. Just look at Russo; she has
fun even when she's flashing the audience every couple minutes.
A desperate act if I've ever seen one, the original's Faye Dunaway makes a
recurring, throwaway cameo as Thomas' psychiatrist, but the role is so
thankless and wasteful that you are left wondering just what the point was.
The scenes between the two stick out like a sore thumb in the context of the
rest of the film, and there is no payoff to be had. Is McTiernan's purpose to
give an "in the know" wink to those who remember the original? If so, then
why not at least incorporate Dunaway somewhere in the confines of the story
being told, instead of adding an extra, half-witted subplot that takes up
even more precious minutes of the already-overlong running time.
There was another caper romance that came out this past April called
"Entrapment," and it is the film that "The Thomas Crown Affair" only wishes
it could be. "Entrapment" was filled with suspenseful and exciting sequences,
and presented us with a relationship that played like more than just an
afterthought. And if that's not enough, the two stars of the picture were
Sean Connery and the radiant Catherine Zeta-Jones, who really set the romance
on fire with heated chemistry and unavoidable passion. In contrast, you never
for once believe that Rene Russo and Pierce Brosnan are in love. When their
inevitable sex scene finally rolls around, their internal frame-of-mind
practically shouts out, "Hey, I'm cashing a paycheck here!"
Copyright © 2000 Dustin Putman