Rene Russo steals the show

Once 'The Thomas Crown Affair' falls into the hands of Pierce Brosnan's sizzling co-star, viewers won't be able to take their eyes off this guilty pleasure.

August 06, 1999|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,SUN FILM CRITIC

The production notes for "The Thomas Crown Affair," a stylish remake of the 1968 caper movie starring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway, say that the filmmakers were concerned about finding a leading lady charismatic enough to hold the screen with Pierce Brosnan, who plays the title character.

In casting Rene Russo, they found her and then some: Russo, who has rarely had a chance to really shine in mostly supporting roles, delivers such a magnetic, glamorous and sexy performance that Brosnan is quickly relegated to second fiddle.

This is not a bad thing. As Catherine Banning, an insurance investigator assigned to recover a $100 million Monet that was stolen from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Russo is at the center of the movie, which in this ideation focuses more on relationships than heists. When Catherine meets multi-millionaire Thomas Crown (Brosnan), whom she suspects of nicking the painting, the game of sexual and psychological cat-and-mouse is immediately afoot.

"How big a thief are you?" she asks of Crown at one point.

"If you count Wall Street, pretty big," he replies.

"The Thomas Crown Affair" has been directed by John McTiernan with efficiency and taste, if not with high emotional stakes. Screenwriter Kurt Wimmer has constructed a couple of clever caper scenes that are a whole lot more fun than the drab bank jobs of the first movie, and co-writer Leslie Dixon has contributed a story line in which Crown and Banning work out their relationship issues.

"Do you know how porcupines mate?" Crown asks his therapist. "Very carefully." By the way, that therapist is played here by Dunaway herself, who is still portraying an investigator, albeit one of a deeper purpose.

Even if Brosnan doesn't begin to crackle with the same seductive energy as McQueen, that deficiency is more than made up for by Russo, who makes a terrifically sensuous leading lady covering up her insecurity with sexual boldness. Decked out in a wardrobe to die for designed by Michael Kors, she moves with elan and self-assurance through a movie that clearly belongs entirely to her.

"The Thomas Crown Affair" makes sure to put its sleek main characters in a number of attractive locations, ranging from Wall Street to the Met (constructed on a Queens soundstage) and all the way to Martinique, where Thomas keeps a bougainvillea-draped cottage. In a film that's as much about pretty places and pretty things as it is about story, McTiernan makes sure to keep the audience full of eye candy, from Crown's over-the-top New York townhouse to Catherine's eye-popping see-through dress in a steamy dance scene.

Eye candy is not a bad thing. In a summer when their kids are busy being scared out of their wits or giggling at masturbation comedies, grown-ups deserves some guilty pleasures, too. Ballasted by Russo's alert performance and freshened by a cool look, "The Thomas Crown Affair" is an ideal escapist trifle for people who don't make a habit of them.

`Crown Affair'

Starring Pierce Brosnan, Rene Russo, Denis Leary

Directed by John McTiernan

Released by MGM

Rated R (language and some sexuality)

Running time 114 minutes

Sun score ***

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