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Memphis Flyer Cheating Hearts

"One Night Stand" fizzles; "The Ice Storm" chills.

By Susan Ellis

NOVEMBER 24, 1997:  One Night Stand, director Mike Figgis’ follow-up to his acclaimed previous picture Leaving Las Vegas, fails and fails badly. What promises to be at the very least titillating, with its storyline involving infidelity, turns out to be a yawn.

It opens with Wesley Snipes, playing successful L.A. TV-commercial director Max Carlyle, explaining documentary-style to the camera why he happens to be in New York. He’s there for work and, he says, to visit, his estranged friend Charlie (Robert Downey Jr.) who he’s just learned has HIV. Circumstances cause him to miss his plane, so he takes in a concert with a new acquaintance named Karen (Nastassja Kinski). After Max saves Karen from being mugged, she falls into his arms, and together, they both commit adultery.

Back in L.A., Max rejoins his life of shooting highly pretentious commercials and bickering with his wife (Ming-Na Wen) over his holier-than-thou posing and his low sex drive. A year later, he’s back in New York to visit Charlie, now in a hospital weeks away from dying. There, he stumbles into Karen again. It turns out she’s Charlie’s sister-in-law.

Where Figgis rattled emotions with Leaving Las Vegas, he can barely get a pulse reading with One Night Stand. There are some tense moments that make Max sweat. When he returns to L.A. unshowered after his tryst, the family dog sniffs at his lap, and when Karen and his wife meet over Charlie’s hospital bed, he shifts nervously. But these instances exist within a lot of padding – scenes of dinner parties, bedside celebrations for Charlie, professional squabbling between Max and his boss – so that the core of what this movie is supposed to be about gets buried. What drives Karen and Max to cheat? The answer is simple: they’re in the same room, they’ve got some energy to burn from the stress of the mugging, and it’s way too late for anything good to be on television. And what are the consequences? Save for a few caught-with-your-pants-down moments, the players are kept from anything too sticky. In fact, One Night Stand may possess one of the lousiest payoffs in recent movie history.

Wesley Snipes in Mike Figgis' One Night Stand

The actors are cast out with nothing to hang onto. Some muddle through it better than others. Snipes bears it out as best as he can, feeling his way as he goes, as if he can’t entirely get comfortable in this character. Kinski, for her part, is especially remote, like she’s acting behind a scrim, which seems to be evidence that her character – a rocket scientist, no less – wasn’t fully developed. Wen throws a little oomph behind her small role with her false giggles and bad jokes. The actor who really gets a beating is Robert Downey Jr., who spends most of his screentime gasping behind an oxygen mask. This appears to be his punishment for behaving so badly in the past. He must serve as the dying man who imparts wisdom, the raspier it’s delivered the better. “Life is an orange,” he tells Max. What does it mean? Like the rest of One Night Stand, it means nothing at all.

The Ice Storm is set in 1973 in New Canaan, Connecticut. In looking back, director Ang Lee (Sense and Sensibility), working from Rich Moody’s novel, conjures up a miserable time. Nixon is going down, the hairstyles and clothing are ugly, and the mood of the period is one of distracted dissatisfaction.

In the center of the film are two families: the Hoods and their neighbors, the Carvers. Ben Hood (Kevin Kline) is having an affair with the chilly Janey Carver (Sigourney Weaver). Ben’s wife Elena (Joan Allen) tries to make up whatever’s missing in her life by acting impulsively. The Hoods’ daughter Wendy (Christina Ricci) explores her newfound sexuality by behaving improperly with both of the Carvers’ sons, Mikey (Elijah Wood) and Sandy (Adam Hann-Byrd).

Within all this malaise, something has got to give. On the day after Thanksgiving, as an ice storm approaches, the elder Hoods and Carvers head to a wife-swapping party. Wendy makes her way to the Carvers’, and Mikey goes outdoors to explore. The events that follow are tragic and inevitable.

Lee has made, with his solid ensemble cast, a deeply affecting movie in The Ice Storm. The characters are wallowing in their own problems; each one is too wrapped up in his own situation to properly tend to the others. Each is trying to get some sort of fulfillment, but the choices that are made are all destructive. There is no real moral to what happens. It just is, and that’s why The Ice Storm sticks to you long after you’ve left the theatre.

Telling Lies in America was written by noted smut auteur Joe Eszterhas. But this is no Showgirls. It’s a nice, small coming-of-age movie based loosely on Eszterhas’ own experiences as a Hungarian immigrant teen making his way in Cleveland in the early Sixties.

Telling Lies stars Brad Renfro as Karchy Jonas, whose principled father (played by Maximillian Schell) sends him to a rich-boy private school, where he is ostracized. To achieve the American Dream, Karchy develops a knack for lying. He ends nearly everything he says with “lots of times” – as in, ever driven? had sex? lots of times. This skill leads him to a job with Billy Magic (Kevin Bacon), a radio deejay who drives a flashy car, wears snazzy clothes, and dates lots of women. Billy and Karchy make a perfect match. Billy introduces Karchy to an exciting lifestyle, and Karchy acts as a go-between for Billy’s record-company payoffs. It’s only toward the end that Karchy realizes that he’s in way over his head.

While the movie is a bit too long and Karchy’s relationship with an older woman (Calista Flockhart of Ally McBeal) seems off, Telling Lies in America is a fine film. Renfro and Bacon both do good work. And, rare in an Eszterhas film, there is no nudity.

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