Rated R - Running Time: 2:04 - Released 5/10/02

I get the feeling that Adrian Lyne's treatment of Unfaithful, a remake of Calude Chabrol's 1969 film La Femme Infidele, updated by writers Alvin Sargent and William Broyles Jr., betrays an attempt to re-create the sexy tautness of Fatal Attraction, director Lyne's most famous and award-nominated film. Although this movie features the kind of sexual tension Lyne achieved in that and several other of his films (Nine 1/2 Weeks, Indecent Proposal...), this one generally lacks the fire generated by the others. It moves at a dreadfully slow pace and seems more depressing than sexy. In Fatal Attraction, even though you knew what Michael Douglas and Glenn Close were doing was wrong, you couldn't fault them for it when it was going on; the sex was just too hot to resist. In this film, you just think, "Why are they doing this."

Unfaithful involves a married couple played by Richard Gere and Diane Lane (pairing up again for the first time since 1984's The Cotton Club), and Olivier Martinez as the dashing young man who comes between them. One ridiculously windy day in New York City, when Connie Sumner (Lane) is trying to collect some supplies for her son's (Erik Per Sullivan, Malcolm In The Middle) birthday party, she is literally blown into Soho bookseller Paul Martel (Martinez), knocking him over (along with the cartoonishly huge pile of books he's carrying) and injuring her knee. Looking like Steve Perry during Journey's heyday and warbling his sexiest French accent, Paul invites her into his apartment for tea and a Band-Aid. When she gets herself taken care of, he offers a book of poetry from his huge collection (his apartment looks like a section of the NYU library stacks). She takes the book, thanks him, and goes home, but Connie can't get the charming mystery man out of her mind. She calls him back and makes an excuse to come and share coffee, and before you know it, they're horizontal.

Although Connie and Paul continue their affair for several weeks, my favorite scene of the movie is her train ride home following their first encounter. Lane's tormented behavior is priceless; she wavers uncontrollably between laughing, crying, and sweating, as she sits alone on the train recalling their passion and realizing the magnitude of her transgression. Needless to say, Edward (Gere) begins to suspect something and has her followed, with disasterous results.

I can't decide whether I like this film or not. Although it's about adultery, suspicion, and ultimately murder, it tries to exist without a villain. We are supposed to like all the characters, and yet in some way, we can't like any of them. Though the sex is passionate between Connie and Paul (at least one scene borders on porn), we don't learn enough about their emotional relationship. Connie is obviously happy when she's with him; she keeps coming back at the risk of damaging her home and family, but apart from one flirtatious scene in a coffee shop, which exists for a different reason, we aren't made to see what makes him so special to her. We can understand why she might become infatuated with another; Lane's relationship with Gere is static and uninteresting, but Edward is not portrayed as a bad guy or even as an insensitive husband, and they don't appear to be estranged in any way. Moreover, although Fatal Attraction ended almost like a horror film with Close wielding that butcher knife (at one point in this film director Lyne even makes a loving reference to that), Paul is never seen, even by Edward, as anything other than a nice guy. There are numerous red herrings and hints that things may turn out another way, which is a nice device, but it never really commits to one or another. The film's final message is unclear; its upbeat resolution is its most unlikely aspect, but even the last scene gives a subtle hint of an alternate ending. It suffers from mixed messages (which are apparently intentional) and a slow, depressing pace (unintentional), so its outcome is muddled and unsatisfying. But man, those two really get it on. ***½

Copyright 2002 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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