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THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR

by: James Berardinelli

For Pierce Brosnan, the 1999 remake of The Thomas Crown Affair (for which he gets a "producer" credit) is an opportunity to play James Bond without the action sequences. His character here has all of 007's characteristic - he's suave, charismatic, unflappable, and gets the girl. But, unless you count his sailing and gliding expeditions, he never really does anything. Those expecting to see gunfights and explosions have wandered into the wrong theater. The Thomas Crown Affair is about capers and the cat-and-mouse game played by the criminal and the investigators; it's not about the mayhem with which Brosnan has become associated during the past five years.

Despite the nearly-perfect casting of Brosnan in the title role, the 1999 version of The Thomas Crown Affair comes across as a pale shadow of the 1968 original. That film, which starred Steve McQueen as the cool, amoral Crown and Faye Dunaway as the equally conscienceless insurance investigator dogging him, was a study in erotic tension. Thirty years later, eroticism has apparently become a lost art. The middle section of the film (the hour that is sandwiched between the two heists), which represented the meat of the 1968 production, is dull and flabby here. McQueen and Dunaway ignited the screen, and their 70-second kiss was a moment to behold. Brosnan and his co-star, Rene Russo, can't generate more than a few fitful sparks, and their sex scene (which lasts longer than 70 seconds and features plenty bare buttock and breast shots) is generic and uninteresting.

There are two obvious problems here. The first is John McTiernan's directing. McTiernan is first and foremost an action director. His most successful efforts - Predator, Die Hard, The Hunt for Red October, and Die Hard with a Vengeance - have all included a heavy quotient of scenes designed to get the adrenaline pumping. That's not the case with The Thomas Crown Affair, which focuses on style, glamour, wit, and character interaction, none of which McTiernan has a good grip upon. His approach to the material is workmanlike and dull, bearing little resemblance to the inspired accomplishment of Norman Jewison in the original.

The other flaw in The Thomas Crown Affair's makeup is the casting of Rene Russo as Catherine Banning, Crown's opponent/love interest. Russo makes her character into a sassy, tough, confident woman, but there's no sex appeal. In films like In the Line of Fire and Lethal Weapon 3, she has shown herself to be a competent actress given the proper material, but she is not right for this part. She and Brosnan never click; it's impossible to accept the romance between Thomas and Catherine because the actors don't deliver. By miscasting the female lead, the filmmakers have dealt The Thomas Crown Affair a serious blow.

Although manipulated and altered, the basic storyline is still recognizable. Thomas Crown is a wealthy businessman who dabbles in art theft because it amuses him, not because he needs the money. He's so rich that he can afford to lose $100,000 in a golf bet. With the help of a group of hired henchmen, Thomas masterminds the removal of a $100 million Monet from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Once he has the painting in his possession, he adds it to his private collection, never intending or attempting to sell it. Enter Catherine Banning, who represents the insurance company that stands to lose a lot of money if the painting isn't recovered. Working with detective Michael McCann (Denis Leary), she quickly narrows the list of suspects to one: Thomas Crown. But proving his guilt is a tricky matter, and, when Catherine gets a little too close to him while trying to ferret out the truth, she finds herself falling for him.

The specifics of the plot have been changed enough that aficionados of the original won't be sure exactly how events are going to develop (

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