Rated R - Running time: 1:42 - Released 11/19/97

Picture this: you're in New York, visiting your friend who is HIV-positive, knowing that he's going to die in the next few years. What's the first thing you do? Why, you jump into bed with the first attractive stranger you meet, of course! This is just one of the unlikely events that take place in this otherwise excellent film that deals with some of the most sensitive, troubling issues of our time.

Wesley Snipes plays Max, a director of TV commercials who is on his way to visit his dear friend Charlie (Robert Downey, Jr.), a homosexual who has just been diagnosed with HIV. At the film's opening, Max narrates, looking directly into the camera in Woody Allen fashion, and makes it clear that he himself is not gay. (This self-narration is inexplicably abandoned after the opening scenes.) After their lunch together, Max misses his plane back to L.A. But all is not lost, because he meets an attractive woman named Karen (Natassja Kinski), with whom he goes out. Both are married, and they plan no mischief — just a simple concert of chamber music, which they both love. But as they are walking away from the concert, they are mugged. Unhurt, but shaken, the two decide to go to her place for drinks to help settle them down. Predictably, he spends the night, and they part ways, thinking they'll never see each other again. When Max gets home to his amorous wife Mimi, played by Ming-Na Wen (The Single Guy), he is wracked with guilt, but gets over it.

Cut to a year later: Charlie is hospitalized in the advanced stages of AIDS, and Max goes to see him. Upon arriving, he meets Charlie's brother Vernon (Kyle MacLachlan), and discovers to his horror that Vernon's wife is none other than Karen, Max's undercover angel from the previous year. Oh-oh. The rest of the film is spent between Max's tearful caring for his dying friend and dealing with the sexual tension that has been established with Karen.

This film is a paradox. It is so well directed by Mike Figgis (Leaving Las Vegas), who also wrote the screenplay and the music, and so well acted by the entire cast, especially Downey, that until the last half hour of it, I was completely prepared to give it 5 stars and a glowing review. The cinematography by Declan Quinn is also excellent, using a juxtaposition of quick cuts and slow fades to elicit the sensation of passing time. But Figgis's script gets so increasingly ridiculous toward the end, it mocks the gravity of the subject matter. Most of the film is handled tastefully and maturely, and the horrible reality of Charlie's struggle against his disease is haunting, exquisite. But the relationship between Max and Karen (and their spouses) finishes like a sketch from Love, American Style. ****

Copyright 1997 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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