Friday, May 10, 2002

Low infidelity

Movie: Unfaithful

Posted on Fri, May 10, 2002 at 4:00 AM

Our Rating: 2.00

Fifteen years after the release of "Fatal Attraction," I still can't understand why Michael Douglas was fooling around with Glenn Close when he already had Anne Archer at home. That film's director, Adrian Lyne, shows us the opposite side of the coin in "Unfaithful," in which he proves that his penchant for wholly unmotivated adultery knows no gender restrictions. Adapted from the 1969 French-made "Le Femme Infidele," the film stars Diane Lane as an upper-class housewife who, unprovoked by any apparent dissatisfaction with her marriage, plunges into a steamy affair with a tastefully scruffy French book dealer (Olivier Martinez).

Her husband is played by Richard Gere. Listen closely, and you may hear random women in the seats around you slapping their foreheads in disbelief.

Cheating on Richard Gere for no especial reason? It's but the first of the bad-faith moves this flimsy picture tries to bust. Lane's Connie Sumner and Martinez's Paul Martel hook up in the most facile meet-cute ever: They're literally blown together by a windstorm that whips through the concrete canyons of New York City's SoHo district. The gusts of air also keep Connie's overcoat pointing skyward, allowing us a prolonged gander at Lane's shapely legs and inaugurating a tradition of exposure to which Lyne will regularly return as a complete, coherent plot fails to present itself.

Her knees bruised from the unexpected encounter (and isn't that a locker-room joke waiting to happen?), Connie is invited inside by the amorous Paul, who lives in a fire-trap apartment stocked to the ceiling with vintage tomes. (The centerpiece of his collection is a Braille edition of "The Joy of Cooking.") Soon enough -- which qualifies as "immediately" in a film that's as slow as death -- the two set about playing multiple variations of The Little Engine That Could Go Into the Tunnel Again and Again. From Paul's bedroom to a public restroom to a movie theater, no environment is too outré.

What of Gere's poor, cuckolded Edward? The film sentences him to unsuspecting passivity for an extended stretch, the better to wallow in its softcore silliness. (Bereft of these indulgences, the first 90 minutes of the picture would go by in 40.) When Edward finally learns the depth of Connie's betrayal, he suffers a panicked attack of honking that's pure Felix Unger, then elects to take up arms against his sea -- well, it's more like a tributary -- of troubles. This, we gather, is the flashpoint we've waited so long to reach.

No, it isn't. Defying all logic, the story begins to move even slower, lumbering through another half-hour or so of tedium and finally collapsing into a nonconclusion that should be grounds for an immediate refund of ticket monies.

Then again, any movie that introduces a secondary character as working for Planned Parenthood, and then has her pass the comment, "If he looked at me twice, I would be on my back in a second," is clearly not a film that harbors much respect for anybody. Give in to "Unfaithful" and you'll hate yourself in the morning.


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