Friday November 14, 1997
In creating "One Night Stand," writer-director Mike Figgis has, like the celebrated Dr. Frankenstein, come up with something of a monstrosity: a pompous, pretentious sex farce. If that sounds unnerving, you have no idea.
With an overload of contrivance and a weakness for fake intimacy, "One Night" has unmistakable farce components. But Figgis, humorless enough to think he's being profound, is so determined to bring this to the level of "Tristan and Isolde" that you don't know whether to laugh at the wrong places or cry out in frustration.
"One Night Stand" is being conspicuously marketed as the newest work "from the director of 'Leaving Las Vegas,' " a designation that doesn't help the new film and makes the old one look worse by comparison. Seeing the same visual and aural techniques used on unintentionally preposterous material might embarrass those who thought the earlier film was in any way profound.
Though they tend to look like smoke and mirrors here, Figgis' stylistic touches are all present. Cinematographer Declan Quinn is back from "Las Vegas" to add his jittery, eye-catching camerawork. And Figgis himself has once again come up with a moody jazz score that is undeniably the picture's strongest element. "Without the music," the director has said, "I would have no interest in filmmaking."
People who think like that may make wonderful music, but they really shouldn't be writing their own scripts. What results here is bathetic lines, like "Everything in me that was hollow and false seemed so clear suddenly," that sound like parody but are meant to be taken with dreadful seriousness.
Almost from its opening moments, when L.A. commercial director Max Carlyle (Wesley Snipes) faces the camera on a Manhattan street and reveals he's a happily married 35-year-old husband and father with quite the successful career, "One Night Stand" starts on the wrong foot. There is an air of false and unearned closeness about that mock-documentary technique that creates distance despite trying hard for connection.
Things soon get worse when Max uses his trip to New York to reconnect with Charlie (Robert Downey Jr.), a gay performance artist who used to be his best friend. Not only is Charlie such a defensive pain in the neck it's difficult to imagine him as anyone's best friend, but making him HIV-positive feels manipulative in the worst way.
It's in a hotel restaurant that Max and the beautiful Karen (Nastassja Kinski) first notice each other. But he's happily married, remember, and as it turns out so is she. End of story, right? Of course not.
Instead what happens is an ever-widening series of coincidences, from ink on a shirt to a shared love of the Juilliard String Quartet to massive Manhattan gridlock to a mugging that would never happen now that crime fighter Rudolph Guiliani is still New York's mayor. Figgis' script becomes so insistent in offering excuses and mitigating circumstances out of fear that we'll dislike this couple for cheating that audiences will be tempted to shout, "Enough already, do whatever you want, just get on with it."
The act itself, it we're to judge by the elaborate way it's been staged and accompanied by a trumpet solo played by Figgis himself, was apparently a prime Kodak moment for the concupiscent couple. Karen heads off to parts unknown and Max returns to L.A. to pick fights with his gorgeous wife, Mimi (Ming-Na Wen), and get secretly grumpy because the purity of that one night reveals the rest of the world for the dross it is.
All this time Max's pal Charlie is getting sicker and sicker, and soon a return trip to New York is unavoidable. That's the point where "One Night Stand's" coincidences and improbabilities go into mind-numbing overdrive and, as the coup de grace, Charlie gets so ill that, in true movie fashion, he becomes an all-knowing sage able to offer Max the wisdom he's sorely in need of.
Unaware that they're being betrayed by their own movie, both Snipes and Kinski (who does bite her lip a bit too often) work hard and with acceptable effectiveness, but "One Night Stand" is beyond salvation. "Life is short," says Charlie in one of his bursts of Talmudic insight, "the tree-huggers are right." Too short to waste on foolishness like this.
One Night Stand, 1997. R, for strong sexuality and language, and for drug content. A Red Mullet production, released by New Line Cinema. Director Mike Figgis. Producers Mike Figgis, Annie Stewart, Ben Myron. Executive producer Robert Engelman. Screenplay Mike Figgis. Cinematographer Declan Quinn. Editor John Smith. Costumes Laura Goldsmith, Enid Harris. Music Mike Figgis. Production design Waldemar Kalinowski. Art director Barry Kingston. Set decorator Florence Fellman. Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes. Wesley Snipes as Max Carlyle. Nastassja Kinski as Karen. Kyle MacLachlan as Vernon. Ming-Na Wen as Mimi. Robert Downey Jr. as Charlie.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times