Remakes, sequels and feature films sprung from television shows are often said to be the surest signs of a Hollywood entertainment factory that's devoid of anything resembling an original idea. One look at this summer's mundane Wild Wild West or the misguided The Mummy might sway anyone to that line of thinking.
On the other hand, a good idea is where you find it, and '90s James Bond guy Pierce Brosnan smartly trusted his instincts when he attached his name -- as star and producer -- to a reimagining of "The Thomas Crown Affair," the 1968 crime-caper-cum-romance starring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway.
The new version, in which Brosnan's dashing, millionaire art thief goes one-on-one with beautiful insurance agent Catherine Banning (Rene Russo), may be funnier, sexier and more stylish than its predecessor (an Oscar winner for its theme song, "The Windmills of Your Mind," which also returns). It's a largely entertaining cat-and-mouse game, led by two characters who attempt to keep their cool while falling deeply, madly in love with one another.
A direct reference to the original is made right up front, when Dunaway is heard (and later seen) as a psychologist. She's hoping to help eminently eligible bachelor Crown to open up emotionally, to trust a woman long enough to make a bona-fide love connection. It's a bit of modern-day psychobabble that doesn't quite pay off; imagine McQueen's response to such counsel, if you can.
Therapy sessions aside, Crown's immediate concern is the theft of a $100-million Monet painting from the Museum of Modern Art. He pulls off the risky crime with the greatest of ease, almost directly under the noses of armed security guards.
It's the first of several heist sequences cleverly executed by director John McTiernan, who packs his film with sleek surfaces. Placing the two impeccably dressed -- and often undressed -- lovers in the lap of luxury, McTiernan fashions a summer-vacation world of conspicuous consumption, from a lavishly decorated Manhattan apartment to a well-appointed villa in Martinique.
His robbery puts Crown in direct conflict with cynical detective Michael McCann (a one-note Denis Leary) and throws him at odds with Banning, a polished professional who's as successful at catching bad guys as she is at snaring and then releasing boyfriends. Just like her nemesis, she's got a big problem with trust; this time, though, they're both on the verge of major emotional breakthroughs.
Watching the would-be enemies circling one another is a lot of fun, as their growing ardor rubs up against the dangers inherent in their coupling (a set-up that proved so effective in grandfather-granddaughter romance Entrapment). But why is it always the woman who's forced to take the greatest risks -- personal and professional -- in these scenarios? Making Banning walk a high wire not required of Crown is a concept as dated as the split-screen techniques director Norman Jewison employed in the first film. Righting the balance would make this less-than-thorough overhaul an "Affair" to remember.
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