Filmmaking follies outflanked by fun in flawed robbery remake
Plagued by a number of immoderate filmmaking follies, the Pierce Brosnan-Rene Russo remake of 1968's "The Thomas Crown Affair" would be easy to malign if it weren't so maddeningly enjoyable.
As a sexually-charged caper picture featuring a billionaire art thief pursued by a brilliant, beautiful insurance investigator, it seems like the kind of dependable formula film that would be hard to screw up if "Entrapment" hadn't proved it possible only a couple months ago.
But that movie's weaknesses -- arbitrary break-ins and stars with no sexual spark between them -- are this one's strengths. Director John McTiernan ("Die Hard" 1 and 3) has a gift for charging any scene with adrenaline, be it the split-second timing of an exciting heist or the tantalizing cat-and-mouse seduction of a rivalry-romance.
In this re-interpretation of Norman Jewison's bank-related original -- which featured Steve McQueen as the rich robber and Faye Dunaway as his foil (she has a cameo here as Crown's shrink) -- McTiernan offers up thrills early on with an elaborate museum theft in which Brosnan, a bored acquisitions magnate, nics a Monet for sport.
Enter the ever-resilient Russo, a smart, sexpot settlement adjuster who Sherlocks her way to Crown in no time, without bothering to explain how she got there. (Riddle me this: Why does she rewind the museum's security tapes far enough to see how the heist was executed, but not far enough to see who did it?)
With a smoky stare and a toss of her ludicrously windstorm-styled hair, she accuses him of pilfering the painting. He plays sly, and the game is afoot.
So far, so good. We know how this works even if we haven't seen the first film.
But all too soon after Brosnan and Russo begin trading seductive snipes, they tumble into bed in a gratuitous and absurdly staged sex scene that seems only to serve as a showcase for Russo's miraculous maintenance of her 40-something frame.
It's scenes like this that do "Thomas Crown" a disservice since McTiernan's major mistake was pushing Russo into a Sharon Stone role. There's something slightly undignified about her performance. She lacks the credibility needed to play a sophisticated seductress, and until she lightens up a little in the second act she seems positively possessed by her ridiculously inordinate designer wardrobe.
Other misguided moments are just as hard to ignore, but I won't catalog them. Suffice to say they're the kind of idiotic errors that could have easily been skirted by one more quick run through the screenwriter's word processor.
But for every disparaging point made here, there's a balance somewhere -- in one of the movie's fantastic break-in sequences or in a moment of playful animosity between Brosnan and Russo -- that restores the frivolous fun frame of mind.
In the last half hour, the movie begins to really get interesting as Russo settles into a more realistic personality and is forced to face the fact that she's falling in love with her prey. The emotional core of the movie is far more her personal-professional conflict than it is anything about this Thomas Crown guy.
For his part, Brosnan is just right as the billionaire bored with mergers and take-over bids. Crown is what James Bond might be if he retired to the private sector, and Brosnan could play him in his sleep.
But it's McTiernan's inconsistency that keeps "The Thomas Crown Affair" from being any better than it is. Energetic, colorful, rich and resonant, ultimately the movie is still obliging because of its scheming, sophisticated playfulness. It's just a pity the director couldn't have turned in a picture a little less dependent on nagging nonsense.