The Thomas Crown Affair

Memphis Flyer

DIRECTED BY: John McTiernan

REVIEWED: 08-16-99

She just couldn't have done it without a sexy salsa beat and see-through dress.

Most Memorable Scene from The Thomas Crown Affair: Newly buff Rene Russo tosses her copper hair wildly at Pierce Brosnan. Gripping her sheath dress and tossing its flimsy fabric into the ballroom light, the 40-plus actress exposes her bare porcelain bod and invites a dirty dance that makes Patrick Swayze look like Richard Simmons. The two gorgeous actors bump and grind and tease and lower their eyes seductively at each other. Their libidos lead and of course, they rush home and make the kind of wild, monkey love that only rich people do -- in front or on top of every ornate, expensive thing they own. Cut and print.

It is Russo's casual full-frontal exposure and strikingly elegant wardrobe that is the crowning achievement of The Thomas Crown Affair. As art insurer Catherine Banning, Russo enters unfamiliar territory, portraying a character defined primarily by her sexuality. She's abandoned the cutesy sidekick shtick audiences adored in Get Shorty, Lethal Weapon 3 and 4, and Tin Cup. From our introduction to Banning -- one garter-flashing leg protruding from a trench coat -- Russo becomes a take-charge vixen who hides her emotions behind Jackie O. sunglasses. Her assignment is to retrieve a gazillion-dollar Monet that international man of mystery Thomas Crown (Pierce Brosnan) has thieved from a New York City museum. Banning always gets her man, but this time the criminal looks so damn fine in his stubble and beach-front linen drawers that she loses her edge.

Brosnan is Bondian as ever, gracefully floating around his townhouse filled with artistic masterpieces, every now and then devising an elaborate plot to "borrow" another Cezanne or Renoir. When he needs a companion, he calls his friend Anna, portrayed by DKNY model Ester Canadas -- who gets not one line in the whole movie, just a few long-held catty scowls that prove modeling is not always a stepping stone for acting. Crown's life is vacant no matter how many paintings he swipes or how many catamarans he wrecks for the thrill of it -- a breath-taking feat that Brosnan performs without a stunt double. Crown just isn't the type of guy to settle for an average-looking woman. Even his psychiatrist -- Faye Dunaway -- practically purrs on camera. (Dunaway played Catherine Banning in the 1968 version with Steve McQueen.)

Director John McTiernan stays loyal to what made Die Hard his signature hit -- smug one-liners, token foreign burglars, and machismo. Banning has as much machismo and pride as her sought-after playboy. "Men make women messy," she says during her first date/inquisition with Crown, only to later break down at the foot of his marble staircase because she's now -- of course -- in love with him. One wonders if her loins don't simply burn for dollar signs because she's able to retain her bad-assness around poor Detective McCann, an uptight Denis Leary. Would someone give this guy a cigarette and his personality back? If his character is intended to foil Banning's designer tastes with J.C. Penney ties and a haircut that would embarrass Joey Lawrence, then a blow-up doll in Leary's place would have had more depth.

It's easy to get lost in a sea of super-modeldom in The Thomas Crown Affair. Fortunately the art often dwarfs the pretty people. Using works from recognizable artists such as Jean Dubuffet and Joan Miro, the film doesn't risk going beyond what an college art class would cover in the first two weeks. Look for a top-notch rip-off of Claude Monet's Impression: Sunrise 1872. Further, McTiernan makes up Crown's sluggish middle pace with a closing action scene that choreographed as a clever maze of mistaken identity.

By far, the reason to see The Thomas Crown Affair is the lead in stilettos. Sure, times have changed and titillating audiences with a flirtatious chess game -- as Dunaway and McQueen did -- doesn't a love scene make. But aloofness goes a long way when one's expected to bare it all -- emotionally and physically -- all the time. For an actress who turned down Sharon Stone's role in Basic Instinct because she thought she didn't have what she called, in a recent interview on Charlie Rose, "the sex," Russo doesn't seem to have trouble exuding its appeal.

--Ashley Fantz

Full Length Reviews
The Thomas Crown Affair
The Thomas Crown Affair

Capsule Reviews
The Thomas Crown Affair
The Thomas Crown Affair

Other Films by John McTiernan
Die Hard With a Vengeance
The Thirteenth Warrior

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