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Tucson Weekly An Affair To Forget

Love Stinks, Part II.

By Stacey Richter

NOVEMBER 24, 1997:  MIKE FIGGIS IS making a career of creating some of the most shamelessly romantic anti-love stories to ever grace the silver screen. If his Leaving Las Vegas was a bad-idea movie to see on a date, then his newest, One Night Stand, is even worse. Love is a pernicious, toxic little pill to Figgis, and though it's refreshing to see a flick that doesn't follow the standard pattern of the corny Hollywood romance, it's difficult to swallow Figgis' strange compound of lush romanticism and world-weary pragmatism.

The problem with One Night Stand is that, like Leaving Las Vegas, it mixes a touching, against-all-odds love story with sickness, hate, betrayal and death. This strategy worked in Leaving Las Vegas largely due to the fact that Nicolas Cage got killed off at the end, leaving his prostitute girlfriend a little wiser and mercifully liberated from a messy relationship. The only person who gets to die in One Night Stand is Charlie (Robert Downey Jr.), a secondary, Puck-ish character who, by the example of his death, inspires the kids left behind to find true love.

Charlie is an old friend of Max Carlyle (Wesley Snipes), a married, successful director of TV commercials who has reluctantly embraced the glib, sushi-eating L.A. Weltanschauun. Charlie, who's sick with AIDS, has a more arty, in-your-face, New York way of navigating life. When Charlie is not being a mischievous sprite, he is being Christ-like. (Figgis shows him in crucifix position about 20 times, in case we don't get it.) Through his friendship with Charlie, Max gets in touch with the fragility of his own mortality. "This isn't a dress rehearsal," Charlie sputters, quoting the famous bumper sticker.

When Max meets Karen (Nastassja Kinski) he takes the advice to heart. The script was co-written by Joe Eszterhas (of Showgirls fame), and at certain junctures you can really sense Eszterhas' bombastic hand. Like, Max and Karen get mugged by a pair of bad-ass yuppies, one of whom hefts Kinski's breast and comments: "Nice tit." It's okay though, Max saves her. Then she starts crying. Despite the fact that Karen is an accomplished "rocket scientist," she cries through most of the movie--and we know what happens to women in the movies when they start crying. Somebody kisses them.

Max and Karen spend the eponymous one night together, then go their separate ways. But Max has apparently tasted some kind of potent, forbidden fruit, and for him, nothing will ever be the same. He realizes that his marriage sucks. He becomes an asshole. He makes an Armani commercial.

Mike Figgis is an excellent director. He has a wonderful, playful visual sense that outstrips most other directors who incorporate "experimental" elements into mainstream movies (with the exception of Spike Lee, who is clearly an influence on Figgis). Throughout One Night Stand, he plays with speed and time--accelerating footage, or slowing it down, or jump-cutting--to create a woozy, impressionist effect that underscores the emotional condition of his characters.

He's also very good with actors. Snipes comes off as likable, even when he's being a jerk, and Kinski has a quiet dignity despite the fact that she's crying the whole time. But it's Robert Downey Jr. who gives the best performance, in one of the longest death scenes in movie history. What's interesting about Downey's performance is that counter to expectations, he doesn't make dying look particularly sad, or pathetic, or anguished. He makes it seem repulsive, actually--messy and stressful and very biological. At times it's even hard to understand what he's saying, because he's having breathing problems, and it takes some guts on Figgis' part to include this stuff.

It also takes some guts on Figgis' part to portray an interracial tryst without making an issue of it. But despite these strengths, One Night Stand is, in the final analysis, an ungenerous, mean-spirited movie.

Max and Karen are both married, and the manner in which Figgis portrays their spouses (Ming-Na Wen and Kyle MacLachlan) ruins any sensitivity the movie might have claimed. Both are shown as borderline villains; they're empty and superficial and mean. Karen's husband is homophobic. The sex scene between Max and his wife Mimi rates way, way up there on the misogyny scale. Compared to the meek, angelic Karen, Max's selfish wife Mimi actually enjoys sex (instead of weeping through it). "Fuck the kids," she says, when Max tries to quiet her down, "I'm coming!"

It's difficult to take the love story between Max and Karen seriously in light of the difficulties they're having with their respective spouses. This movie makes the whole process of coupling up seem doomed. If Max and Karen made such lousy choices with their spouses, why would they do any better with their lovers?

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