The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)
Directed by John McTiernan
Cast: Rene Russo, Pierce Brosnan, Denis Leary, Ben Gazzara, Fritz Weaver,
1999 114 minutes
Rated: (for profanity, sex, and nudity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, August 8, 1999.
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!"
©1999 by Dustin Putman