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Poor Form

At the Movies

By Michael W. Hirschorn

Nine and a Half Weeks

Directed by Adrian Lyne

At the USA Charles

9 1/2 WEEKS--how shall I call thee a horrible movie? Shall I be offended by thy dominaiton and thy kinky sex? Shall I complain that there wasn't enough? Or, shall I be so bored by the whole venture as to wonder whether I'll have enough energy to be outraged?

The last is more than a glib question, for 9 1/2 Weeks, the movie everyone is purportedly talking about, has got to be the most torporific cinematic experience in recent memory. And one can thank Adrian Lyne for making the impossible happen: turning a potentially torrid sado-masochistic relationship between a beautiful supermodel (Kim Basinger) and a stud actor (Mickey Rourke) into an emotional and sexual wasteland.

Basinger and Rourke may literally have fucked their brains out, as their characters do in the film, because neither of them seem to have enough energy or imagination to talk, let alone act in way commonly associated with humans of our species.

The whole venture has been rationalized in the pre-release hype with the argument that it is a "true" story. The movie is based on a book by an anonymous author who describes how she was pulled into a nine-and-a-half-week long relationship with a man who dominated her body and mind. She finally realizes the perverseness and horror of the relationship and escapes to write a published account of the whole ordeal.

But truth--and this movie stretches that notion to its breaking point--is not necessarily an excuse for movie-making. A tough movie about a destructive relationship is potentially good fodder for Hollywood, especially now that film-makers are given unprecedented freedom to portray life and love in all its carnal beauty and horror.

YET, SUCH MOVIES will by their nature exploit the actors who participate--in this case the stunning Basinger--who told interviewers that she was psychologically obssessed with achieving the requisite screen effect. Exploitation is nothing new to movies, and most, if not all, of the moviegoers who make it to 9 1/2 Weeks will be lured by the prospect of watching Basinger pout through a grueling workout of sexual stunts (only one or two of which are as exciting as we expect them to be).

But even exploitation requires a modicum of creativity, and 9 1/2 Weeks is no more and no less than a massive failure of the imagination. 9 1/2 Weeks is, in fact, not about relationships at all. It is about the dark underbelly of the consumer class, a Yuppie nightmare not of domination, but of the loss of humanity.

If Lyne had intended to produce a damning critique of contemporary culture, then he has fashioned an existential horror story of Sartrean proportions. The film reflects how Lyne and much of contemporary society have come to view human relationships--they are merely another item at the checkout counter.

9 1/2 Weeks works as something of a Romeo and Juliet in reverse. Where Shakespeare's star-crossed lovers found common ground in world torn asunder by petty hatreds and jealousies, Lyne's sexual mercenaries have managed to find isolation and meaninglessness in a world filled with potential for those who have enough imagination to discover the meaning in their lives.

LYNE POPULATES THE exterior world of his movie with gaily chatting and arguing New York ethnics who swirl around his android WASP heroes like flies around a honeycomb. Lyne, in his indominatable style, means to make fun of the Chinese, Blacks, and Italians who blithely live on the surface world of lowtech New York. But the seemingly irrelevant visions of a polyglot urban landscape only serve to underscore the irrelevance and emptiness of Rourke and Basinger's protagonists.

Rourke, who after the ignominy of Michael Cimino's 1985 The Year of the Dragon has now played the two most offensive male leads in recent memory (get this man a new agent), is so empty that he cannot wipe off the stupid smile he has been holding since Diner. He is, in sum, no more than another accessory to a life style that is all glitz and no substance, all money and no meaning--he is, of course, an arbitrageur who lives in an apartment packed with high-tech goodies. We get a hint of his life when Basinger's character searches his closet to find rows of perfectly tailored charcoal-grey suits and, natch, a Harvard Magazine (hey, Harvard grads, you too can live like this).

Basinger, whose performance with Sam Shepard in his and Robert Altman's Fool for Love demonstrated that she should be above this stuff, is, thanks to Lyne's directing techniques, able to show the whole range of angst-ridden emotions from fear to guilt-ridden pleasure. But who could fashion a believable role from a script that requires her to suffer the ignominy of being trapped atop a ferris wheel at one moment and to prance down the boardwalk with Rourke as if nothing had happened at the next?

There is little sense to anything either of these characters does. Unless I've missed some major development in human relations that obviates the need for character consistency and development, Lyne's Weeks is a laughable failure in even approaching an understanding of the human condition, Yuppie or otherwise. We are left with two lifeless corpses, animated models who are unable to show any more emotion than they do on the pages of a glossy magazine.

Glossy magazines have their appeal, and were this movie not so abominably bad, audiences would have been content to watch two beautiful people doing the F-thing for two hours. Yet, I suspect 9 1/2 Weeks will die on the vine, for audiences are willing to take emotional alienation only so far, and this type of fantasy is more like a nightmare.

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