Mike Figgis' One Night Stand does so many things well and generates so
much artistic momentum that it's all the sadder that the last quarter of the
picture turns into such an overheated mess.
One Night Stand is the story of a successful Los Angeles commercial
director named Max (Wesley Snipes) who journeys to New York to visit an old
friend, Charlie (Robert Downey Jr.), a gay dancer who has just learned he is
HIV positive. Max is happily married to a vivacious and beautiful wife, Mimi
(Ming-Na Wen), and is the father of two healthy children.
Life has been so good to Max that he's unprepared for what happens to him in
Manhattan. Already distressed by Charlie's illness, Max is mugged at knifepoint
and ends up at the apartment of a beautiful, married (her husband is out of
town) woman named Karen (Nastassja Kinski) who was mugged and molested at his
side. Deeply shaken, these two strangers try to reassure each other and end up
making love in a kind of trance. Their coupling seems as much about comfort and
secure human contact as sex. The next morning, they agree that "nothing"
happened, that they both fully intend to return to the lives they led before
their uncharacteristic union. But it is not nearly so easy as that.
It says something very hopeful about the contemporary world that race plays no
part whatsoever in this film's proceedings, despite the fact that Max is black,
Mimi is Asian and Karen is white. Moreover, Rich character development is a
terrific strength of Figgis' screenplay. Max is not a cheater. It takes unusual
circumstances to make him stray. He is handsome, talented and fundamentally
decent, but he also can be difficult and superior.
Mimi is a sexual pepper pot; in terms of her sexual energy, enthusiasm and
imagination, she's every man's dream-wife. She's faithful and a good mother but
she's not as serious a person as her husband; she's more interested in good
times and good living than, for instance, Max's artistic integrity. Our heart
goes out to Charlie, of course, because he's dying. But he's no stereotypical
victim; he can be cold and vengeful. Charlie's brother Vernon (Kyle MacLachlan)
is guardedly homophobic. At the same time, his obvious and intense love for his
brother transcends his feelings of contempt for Charlie's lifestyle.
Things begin to go awry when it turns out that Vernon is Karen's husband and
that Max and Karen will be reunited when Charlie goes to the hospital under a
death watch. From that point forward, Figgis seems to lose his way almost
altogether. He abandons a keener examination of how even an arguably
justifiable and understandable instance of infidelity can haunt the unfaithful
even when there's no chance of being found out. In its place, he substitutes a
thoroughly dishonest romantic fantasy. That everything works out here as it
does is preposterous and thematically objectionable.
Too bad. I feel like I went to a fancy dinner party with sparkling crystal and
antique china only to have the host serve up Big Macs, tater tots and with