Anyone who wants to see a garbage dump so skillfully art directed and lit that it looks like an Architectural Digest spread needs to see Adrian Lyne’s latest cinematic essay on the perils of adultery, Unfaithful. It may not be quite as loony — and resultantly not as amusing — as his Fatal Attraction (a.k.a. Bunny in the Pot), but it’s very much cut from the same cautionary-tale cloth and done up in the same strained artsy style. The film is billed as erotic and thrilling. But the idea of eroticism doesn’t get much beyond book dealer Paul Martel (played by Oliver Martinez, who’s forced to utter lines like, “There is no right or wrong. There is only what you do and what you don’t do,” in an accent that sounds so much like Ricky Ricardo that you expect him to have preceded the line with, “Let me ‘splain it to you, Lucy”) spinning Diane Lane around upside down and spanking her a couple of times. And the thrills provoke giggles more often than not. It doesn’t help that the premise itself is too gimmicky for its own good. Happily married Constance Sumner (Lane) ventures from her incredibly upscale suburban world into New York City in the midst of a windstorm that makes the twister in The Wizard of Oz look like a summer breeze. (This is perhaps symbolic, but I’m not sure of what, though I did like the image of an inflated zebra wafting through the air.) Instead of causing her to drop a house on a witch, however, the wind merely lands atop too-sexy-for-his-own-good Martel, who takes her up to his improbably spacious apartment for a little first-aid and some sub-Beat generation philosophy. Despite the fact that she’s just experienced Hollywood-ized “meeting cute” at its most virulent, she high-tails it back to the suburbs and the safety of too-boring-for his-own-good hubby, Edward (Richard Gere, who appears to spend most of the movie trying to figure out who his character is), and her domain of domesticity. Of course, it’s not long before she’s back in NYC and having trysts with Mr. Sexy Book Dealer. And it’s not much longer before Mr. Dull Husband finds out and the film decides to turn into an improbable thriller strung together on some of the more dubious plot contrivances ever to grace the silver screen. It’s basic contrivance is one of the most far-fetched of all: What could possibly motivate a woman to present her boyfriend with a gift that her husband had given her? The only possible answer is that Lyne and screenwriter Alvin Sargent thought it would be nicely symbolic to have Edward bash Paul with a snow globe that was originally a present from Edward to Connie. (And, yes, viewers who mutter, “Rosebud,” to themselves as the offending object rolls across the floor are forgiven for this response.) Part of the problem with all of this is that Adrian Lyne seems to be singularly wanting in the sense of humor department. He seems oblivious to the fact that scenes of a character in a stalled elevator with a corpse on his hands, or the potential embarrassment of having his car rear-ended so that the trunk pops open to expose the same dead body, could be played for comedy — so oblivious in fact, that the attempt at playing such scenes straight are more funny than suspenseful. But Lyne is so concerned with artful lighting and pointlessly clever cross-cutting and ripping off other movies (including his own) that he’s apparently unaware of anything else. The film sometimes almost functions as enjoyably overwrought trash cinema (a scene with Lane trying to “wash off” her infidelity in a train lavatory is so wildly over-the-top that it makes Tchaikovsky’s nightmare honeymoon train trip in Ken Russell’s The Music Lovers look like a ride in the back seat of a Rolls Royce), but it’s all so deadly serious that this guilty pleasure aspect gets short-circuited. Sadly, there are good things in the film — Diane Lane’s performance, parts of Gere’s performance, a nice fantasy of how things might have played out had Lane not made that first trip to Martinez’ apartment — but these are buried by the avalanche of bad scripting, heavy-handing moralizing (note to Adrian Lyne: We all know by now that you disapprove of adultery) and stiflingly “artistic” faux-eroticism. If you want real eroticism, go see Y Tu Mama Tambien. For that matter, if you want a good movie, your time will be better spent seeing that.
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