Love Crimes

Before beginning the review proper, I should confess to not remembering the title of the new Warren Beatty/Annette Bening film, which I only finished watching some 12 hours ago. I want to call it True Romance, but nobody gets shot in it. If we audience members had had our firearms handy, though....

But a hatpin would have been a more appropriate weapon. The movie, whatever its name, doesn't excite a violent response; it just makes you want to let the air out of Warren Beatty's ego. Simply because the plot to the old Cary Grant and Charles Boyer vehicles -- Love Affair, that's it! -- resembles the womanizer-finds-his-woman story line of Beatty-s real life doesn't mean that it should be remade, and particularly not for Beatty. The hypocrisy of the project is one of the things that dooms it from the very start. Despite Beatty-s often-announced disdain for sharing his intimate life with his public, he's made a movie celebrating same. It's no coincidence that the "ordinary people" who surround our Hollywood royalty here -- his fellow passengers on his fated plane ride (where he meets Princess Charming) -- are fat, starstruck losers.

Here, the great man's contempt for the media and its audience is made plain, even if his character is too far above such petty matters to really let them bother him. His disdain is so lofty that he may not even recognize it as such. Of course, the media is an easy (and often deserving) target, but would this movie have ever been made if Beatty didn't believe that his exotic private life was, in fact, the stuff of the overstuffed masses' daydreams?

Anyway. The concept here is so painfully high, not to mention familiar, that it can be dealt with quickly. Mike Gambril, ex-Rams quarterback, sports broadcaster and sometime painter (he's quite a guy) is engaged to the hostess of an Oprah-like daytime talk show, a woman who also owns a communications empire. With his fiancee calling the shots, Gambril's future is secure. Best of all, she doesn't seem to notice his affairs. "I've never been faithful to anyone in my life," Mike admits to Terry (Bening), a passenger met in passing on a plane, just after Terry's begun to redeem him with her love.

This happens after the plane carrying the two makes a forced landing on a semi-deserted Pacific isle, and they've been picked up by a passing Russian ship. This sounds silly enough, but, in fact, the Russians, along with Garry Shandling, who plays Mike's cynical agent to near perfection, are the movie's only source of oxygen.

It happens that, through the magic of make-believe, Mike's eccentric Aunt Ginny lives on an island paradise right on the ship's path, so he and his new friend, who is about to enter an emotionally impaired marriage of her own, set out to visit the grand dame. In the aunt's tropical mansion we find this movie's most ambiguous moment: the appearance of Katharine Hepburn. Her acting skills are fine; she plays her ludicrous character as well as anyone could. But her physical appearance -- the palsy, the bloated face -- force a completely unwanted final image of Hepburn on her audience. If her physical deterioration were important to the role, or if the role itself were of some inherent interest, you might call this a brave bit of casting. But instead Hepburn feels like an ornament to Beatty's vanity, as if only the most revered of American actresses would do to bring Beatty and his wife together.

From there it's all rote. The two (now) lovers make a pact to dump their fiancees and meet three months hence on top of the Empire State Building, agreeing that if one of them doesn't show, well, that's life. Of course fate (or a deus ex machina) intervenes, Terry doesn't show, and Mike feels like a sap as he stands waiting in the rain in the exact spot where King Kong too lost everything to a beautiful gal. It's hard to say if Beatty is more of a sap or a big ape for thinking he could make this painfully dated material fly, even at biplane level.

I haven't even mentioned how irritating the literally glowing cinematography is. I suppose itÕs supposed to suggest the past's golden sheen, and to make Beatty look just a little younger. Instead, it makes the characters look like they're tramping around in the afterlife. And weÕre not talking heaven.

-- David Theis

Love Affair.
Directed by Glenn Gordon Caron. With Warren Beatty, Annette Bening, Gary Shandling and Katharine Hepburn.

Rated PG-13.
108 minutes.


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