FILM / For a few dollars, Moore

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The Independent Culture
WATCHING DEMI Moore and Woody Harrelson frolic on a bedful of dollars in Indecent Proposal (15) sets you thinking about their director, Adrian Lyne, who must also be rolling in it. Flashdance, 9 1/2 Weeks, Fatal Attraction: his cv is a catalogue of movie meretriciousness. Next to North Sea oil, he's Britain's slickest and most lucrative export. It's not that he lacks talent, just that he signs it away to moguls in Faustian bargains like the one struck by the heroes of his new film. Having scaled hallucinated heights with Jacob's Ladder, he's now slithered down another snake into a vat of gold.

I don't know if the film insults women, but it certainly insults its audience. A script awaiting major surgery has taken up its bed and walked on to the screen. The plot (for those who've been holed up on Robert Redford's yacht the last few months): magnate John Gage (Redford) offers a golden but hard-up couple (Moore and Harrelson) a million dollars in return for a night with Moore. After a suitable period of agonising (one night) they accept. But the money, of course, is the beginning rather than the end of their problems. They have agreed not to talk about what happened - we don't find out much either - but he's gnawed at by a sort of retrospective sexual jealousy. She knows he has something about which to be jealous.

The film, like the marriage, goes to pieces after the deal is consummated. Before then, it's held together by tacky brio. Lyne sets the happy couple up in a dream home with a familiar mix of flickery video-footage, rows in the kitchen that turn into ruts, and a doomy, nostalgic voice-over from Moore ('Someone once said if you want something very badly, set it free'). In Las Vegas, where Moore and Harrelson gamble their future, Lyne seems to have reached his spiritual home, a gaudy hell of dice-games, screens flashing horse-races, and pounding music. It has the shallow allure of a rock video: the camera whirls round a roulette wheel, the ball shot wide-angle to look like a boulder. As Moore lucky-charms Redford to a million, the neon red dice, in slow motion, billow out of the shaker.

Lyne wisely lets the pictures do the talking at this stage. Awkward poses on ruffled sheets illustrate the pair's troubled decision better than the discussion that follows. Already, though, the cracks are showing: the tension of the gaming table doesn't transfer itself to the relationship between Redford and Moore. Redford is a midnight-blue suit, matching eyes, and little else, a parody of his past blandness. Even his face, which in recent TV interviews has begun to look as if a colony of crows has perched on it, has been softened into humdrumness. And nothing in the script corroborates its unlikely claim that hulking blond jock Harrelson is a summa cum laude architect.

Only Demi Moore's Diana has any life. We are always reading about the thrusting, grasping Moore, Hollywood's number one ball-breaker. But here she's back to her vulnerable, Ghostly self, with elfin face and tremulous Demi-semi-quaver of a voice. She's the kernel of the film, so Lyne might claim a victory over his feminist critics; but it's a pyrrhic one as Moore fits the pattern of Lyne's women, who tend to be chattels rather than characters. She's another rich man's plaything, virtually a rewrite of 9 1/2 Weeks' Kim Basinger, degraded by Mickey Rourke's city slicker.

That's not surprising as Indecent Proposal rips off everything in sight. The script is like one of those crummy student essays cobbled together from other people's work. It nicks Gatsby's initials and his soulful vigil for the light at the end of the pier. When you hear the Citizen Kane speech about unrequited love spouted by Redford, it's like watching someone burgle your house in broad daylight. Along with the sublime, the ridiculous gets plundered: a thin reworking of the lovers' mantra from Ghost. The same romantic-comedy audience is cynically pandered to. American film-goers have lapped it up. They too have sold themselves short.

Mistress (15) is a satire on the movie game that got out-played by The Player in America. You can see why: it's rough and unready, while The Player was polished and timely. Where The Player joshed glamorous insiders, Mistress takes a dig at tawdry outcasts. It's probably truer to the vast majority of Hollywood experience, because its subjects are the foot-soldiers of the film world: the mediocre, the disenchanted, the hopeful hopeless. The film's about clinging to dreams and the fatal lure of the deal. For every Adrian Lyne, or Griffin Dunne, there must be a thousand others - would-be Players.

Marvin Landisman (Robert Wuhl) trod the promised land long ago, but got thrown out after an actor committed suicide on one of his films (a Christopher Walken walk-on - walking off a building). With his unruly curls and blank, burnt-out face, he has that Barton Fink feeling. He's almost free of the bug, making cookery videos. But at night he watches La Grande Illusion, and by day starts to live an illusion again, when Jack Roth (Martin Landau), once a producer, now just a hustler, suggests resurrecting a pet project of Marv's. Their power meetings are pretty low-watt - more Wimpy than Beverly Wilshire. The time is spent tweaking the script and the pitch to suit three potential investors - each of whom has a mistress he wants cast.

Making movies about making movies can be fraught with ironies. This film-within-the-film starts as a bleak personal piece about a painter killing himself rather than compromise his vision, but the prospective producers feel it needs lightening up. Crass as they are, they probably have a point, and could similarly criticise Mistress, which is better at pranks than angst. Danny Aiello is a hoot as a soft-hearted, weak- fleshed Vietnam vet, hoping his neurotic girlfriend (Sheryl Lee Ralph) will make do with a movie career rather than a ring. In a too-brief cameo Robert De Niro plays a swank, streak- haired tycoon. He's more urbane and coherent than we've seen him for a while, the rambling monologues replaced by the rumble of power.

Director Barry Primus's script lacks punch, but what it has, it doesn't pull. The Player seemed to rejoice in what it was supposed to be reviling; Mistress admits it's all a seedy time-waste. Its view is summed up by Marv's wife, who grows suspicious of his secretiveness. Thoughts that he may have a lover set her simmering. But only when he tells her he's involved with a script does she really boil over.

This week's contestants for the Luis Bunuel award for excess in the name of art are French-Canadian Leolo (18) and New Zealand's Braindead (18). The spoof horror movie Braindead wins hands down on excess - watching a stomach explode, you feel your own may follow suit - but it never decides whether to make you tremble with laughter or fear, and has outstayed its welcome long before the last limb has been severed and entrail spilled. Both films present monstrous, Sumo-sized mothers, but Leolo's is the more creative: she gives birth to a tomato. It's the sort of grotesque detail that the film revels in, juggling earthy reality with wild fantasy, darting between the madhouse of young Leolo's home and the bedlam in his brain. It tries too hard, and Leolo's Gauloisey voice-over tells us too much.

It would be easy to tag Wild West (15) and its country-playing Southall Pakistani brothers as an Asian The Commitments or a musical My Beautiful Laundrette. But the film has its own radical and witty voice. It overthrows the Asian work ethic in favour of free- spirited cowboyishness, but shows the other side with the boys' mortified mother. And as the musicians watch tapes of Asian minstrels in mum's General Zia shrine, you feel they may not be sloughing off their heritage, but embracing it.

Times for 'Leolo' today: Chelsea (351 3742) 1.35 3.55 6.20 8.45; Metro (734 1506) 1.45 6.15 8.30; Renoir (837 8402) 1.35 3.55 6.20 8.45; Screen on the Green (226 3520) 3.55 6.20 8.40. For today's other cinema times see Review, page 78.

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