Rated R - Running Time: 1:51 - Released 8/6/99

The new 1999 version of The Thomas Crown Affair is the latest effort from director John McTiernan (Die Hard, The Hunt For Red October). Written by Leslie Dixon and Kurt Wimmer, based on the story by Alan R. Trustman, it is a partially successful reworking of the 1968 movie starring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway.

A Monet painting worth $100 million is stolen from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Though no one suspects him at first, the perpetrator was none other than the building's owner, millionaire playboy Thomas Crown (Pierce Brosnan). Did he do it because he loved the painting? Or because he wanted to sell it and cash in? No. He did it for excitement, just like wrecking expensive catamarans and betting thousands of dollars on golf shots. He's bored, you see, with all his money, and makes a sport of taking huge risks and wasting millions. He doesn't want the painting; he just did it for fun.

Assigned to solve the case is detective Michael McCann (Denis Leary), but he soon finds he has unwanted company. Catherine Banning (Rene Russo), a representative of the painting's underwriters, shows up to help, and immediately suspects Crown. While McCann is trying to go through the proper channels, Catherine gets right to the heart of the matter. She insinuates herself into Crown's life, practically becoming his girlfriend, and the two of them do their best to outsmart each other. The trouble is, when she begins to seriously fall for him, and he for her, their conflicting goals become increasingly uncomfortable. While Catherine struggles to choose between marrying Crown and arresting him, McCann continues his quest for justice — even if it means busting them both.

This film is cute, with many twists and turns, and gives us beautifully rich vistas of how the other half lives. But it suffers from one devastating problem: the believability of the relationship between Crown and Catherine, which is the hinge pin of the whole story. Brosnan and Russo both do fine with their separate parts, but their relationship seems too rushed to be plausible. The idea of both of them contradicting their sworn passions completely for each other, after having just met, is too much to swallow. Catherine's character, as she is introduced early in the film, is a shrewd, wily career woman ready to use her seductive powers to outsmart her quarry; near the film's end she becomes a jealous schoolgirl, pouting when she sees him with another woman.

Meanwhile, Brosnan is so busy being James-Bond cool, he fails to convince us that he really cares for Catherine at all. Throughout the film Crown is seen talking to his psychiatrist (played stupidly by Faye Dunaway, the female lead in the 1968 version of the film — a cute touch — perhaps too cute), and he admits that he could never trust a woman enough to fall in love. This is to assure that we will suspect his motives in his relationship with Catherine, as does she. But he and director McTiernan never give us a reason to come around to the other point of view. His suave, debonair façade is never removed; even though he says he cares for her, we don't see this even in his private moments.

The film's quirky plot is nicely underscored by Bill Conti's frenetic piano music, its twist ending is enjoyable, and the sexy romance reveals a surprising amount of flesh for a couple over 40 (Russo spends about half the film with no top). It is generally a satisfying mystery-thriller, but the relationship flaws tend to hamstring the film's credibility. ****

Copyright 1999 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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