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The Thomas Crown Affair

Review by Elias Savada
Posted 6 August 1999

The Thomas Crown Affair   Directed by John McTiernan.

Starring Pierce Brosnan,
Rene Russo, Denis Leary,
Ben Gazzara, Frankie Faison,
Fritz Weaver, Charles Keating,
Mark Margolis, and Faye Dunaway.

Written by Leslie Dixon
and Kurt Wimmer,
from a story by Alan R. Trustman.

Bond’s back and…. Oops, sorry, pardon the slight misunderstanding. Same studio, same star, same cool, calculating, caper-esque atmosphere. You can see how easily I got confused, can’t you? In a prelude to the next 007 entry this fall, MGM has stretched back to the Sixties again with a moderately aggressive commercial remake of a 30-year-old classic, bloating the style-over-content original into a p.c. model rooted in near-Millennium sexuality. In the 1968 version, Norman Jewison’s flashy style and drop-dead-gorgeous stars played intimate games in a far-fetched relationship created by a Boston lawyer turned neophyte screenwriter. Action director John McTiernan (Predator, the first and third Die Hards, The Hunt for Red October) doesn’t use much explosive bang this go-around as he does subtle, calculating pizzazz. The filmmakers are aiming more for the similarly themed Entrapment and Out of Sight crowd, with a dash of Mission: Impossible and some titillating activity from co-stars Pierce Brosnan (also a producer) and Rene Russo, each filling the designer shoes of immortal screen legend Steve McQueen and the apparently ageless (only her plastic surgeon will tell) Faye Dunaway, who pops up in the current rendition as a wasted psychiatric sounding board for the anti-hero every now and then. This movie smells -- not too badly -- of processed entertainment (you can’t call this one cheese whiz, because I don’t think you can whiz higher-priced brie) and it delivers solidly for the most part. Yet the updated script by Leslie Dixon and Kurt Wimmer still contains some of the slow flirtatious episodes that dragged out the earlier effort. The mouth-watering close-ups of Dunaway’s doting eyes, luscious lips, and slender legs in the first film are replaced with racy R-rated topless action in a brazenly open, but just as wily, performance by Russo, today’s answer to Lana Turner’s Gilda. For the gals, you’ll find solace in Brosnan’s bare butt. Confidence exudes from him, physically and emotionally.

Thomas Crown’s empire has grown over time, and his coldly chic lady-killing methods now include some mountaintop Caribbean diversions, although some of his outdoor amusements (hang-gliding, golfing) were in Alan R. Trustman’s original 1968 script. Crown was then a dashing Boston sportsman millionaire involved in real estate, securities, and currency arbitrage, who robs banks for the adrenaline rush of good gamesmanship. Today he’s a dapper New York City amateur daredevil billionaire whose love of good wine, stunning women, and fine art turns his attention to the theft of a priceless Monet at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Played out like an expensive chess match, the film highlights the tensions between the Gianni Campagna-attired Crown (Brosnan) and his "Wardrobe by Celine" pursuer Catherine Banning (Russo). She is the crack investigator for the insurance company looking into the daring daylight removal of the masterpiece, set up by a preliminary trojan horse episode involving Crown’s planting of some foreign-speaking criminals in the near vicinity of the canvas.

I’m not very pleased with this inflationary re-write. The wonderful manner that the original Crown pawned a handful of men, unaware of his and each other’s identity, into carrying off the $2,660,527.62 bank heist (Trump change by today’s standards) with military precision is sadly missing, including Pablo Ferro’s then intoxicating split-screen technique. As part of today’s release, the art-loving Crown is omnipresent in the circumstances surrounding the theft, including being in the museum at the time of the painting’s removal (when played by McQueen, he was nowhere in sight). Heck, he uses that immediacy as an alibi by later identifying his hired thugs in a police line up. The Faye Dunaway character, originally called Vicki and who didn’t appear until 35 minutes into the film (Russo wastes only 20 before her entrance; Dunaway as the shrink, opens the film), uses a newspaper ad ("Be a fink for $25,000) to get the frumpish wife of Long Island salesman Jack Warden to rat on her vulnerable, nervous husband, one of Crown’s thieves-for-hire, along with Homicide’s Yaphet Kotto in one of his early roles. And slap-clappy soundtrack has replaced the award-winning score (including an Oscar for best song  --  The Windmills of Your Mind).

There’s more expensive smoke and mirrors this go-round for today’s more demanding audiences, I presume. Crown is now also the museum’s patron saint, allowing for a lesser oeuvre to be hung on the museum’s bare wall as the vexatious police detective Michael McCann (Denis Leary) checks out his most unusual suspect. Crown’s association with the shady world of art forgery does take the film in an interesting, unexpected side trip in the film’s final reel, and a second robbery makes the authorities believe they’re playing "Where’s Waldo?", but the mile high ending is pure plastic audience pleaser. Catherine’s affinity for swallowing wretched looking gray liquids, one of the film’s few humorous moments (although she does guzzle a Pepsi One once in the film in a blatant product endorsement), might make audiences wonder if they’d be better off renting the original on video than swallowing this new age muck. I’d wager their assumption is right.

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