Crowning (re)touch

File this one under "guilty pleasures."

THE GOOD NEWS is: John McTiernan's handsome remake of the '60s heist-cum-cool romance classic The Thomas Crown Affair is better than the original. The bad news is: Have you seen the original lately? The highlight of Norman Jewison's self-consciously clever heist flick is a chess game rendered as foreplay. The metaphor is apt in ways Jewison never intended. Steve McQueen, the king of taciturn cool, never lets his mask of composure down, and Faye Dunaway, with an icy exterior and a guarded heart, is his perfect foil. Master thief and ingenious investigator spar in the professional and personal ring, but the tease glimpse of romantic soul is tossed aside for the hip cynicism: These characters are all hard armor and calculating gamesmanship, with no heart.

The Thomas Crown Affair

directed by John McTiernan

starring Pierce Brosnan, Rene Russo

opens August 6 at Crossroads, Metro, Meridian, and others

Pierce Brosnan is no McQueen, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. After his bouts as Bond, he's managed to marry his confidence and self-effacement into a handsome package of sensitivity and seductive charm: a hunk for the '90s. Rene Russo is the woman Julia Roberts hopes to be when she ages out of ingenue roles: a sexy, mature woman who oozes confidence with every playful, knowing smile.

This time around, the brilliant but bored bazillionaire Thomas Crown (Brosnan) is an art hound who targets a museum treasure for his sting. The opening is a tight, elegantly designed heist, shot and edited with a refreshing smoothness that captivates without recourse to pyrotechnic overkill or bullet-splayed shoot-outs. Enter Catherine Banning (Russo), a bold, brilliant, impossibly confident, eagle-eyed insurance investigator who spots her suspect immediately. She jump-starts the investigation by throwing down the gauntlet to Crown at an art museum event, confronting him with a wink and a sway of her hips. The courtship begins: two sly, wary adults playing at love while moving and countermoving in the continuing investigation. Of course they must fall in love, and therein lies the conflict.

Brosnan and Russo are pitched as a sort of William Powell and Myrna Loy for the '90s: witty, cynical, tough, playful, and grown-up. As they flirt and woo their way through the game of wills, they let their true feelings leak through cracks in their masks—perhaps a little too much. As Russo collapses into scatterbrained indecision for the "will she or won't she" third act, she loses almost all pretense of professionalism. For his part, Brosnan is allowed to be calm and sweetly lovesick because his cagey psychiatrist (Faye Dunaway, who brings the steely intensity of a shark to this unnecessary but fun cameo) reads between the lines for us. But even when the film slips in ridiculous twists (lose the pouty supermodel on Crown's arm, please), Brosnan and Russo manage to save it with the grace of two mature performers, playing cool elegance with a wink of unpretentious sophistication. Sure, it's silly, but grown-ups need a little fun sometimes, too.

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