In a classic Bob and Ray routine the interviewer gets exasperated with the president of the Slow Talkers Of America.
"Talkers of America!"
"America! Say it!"
Evidently that skit was the inspiration for this film. The actors don't just punctuate each sentence with long pauses, they pause after every word. The result is an excruciatingly long movie, where the few normal conversations seem speedy by comparison.
Bill Hartford (Tom Cruse) and his wife Alice (Nicole Kidman) attend a fancy party. Two women try to seduce Bill while a Hungarian playboy, talking slowly, makes a very long pass at Alice, who is talking slower.
Later, at home, Bill and Alice take slow hits off a joint, and she slowly tells him about her fantasy of having sex with a stranger she saw that summer. Bill slowly responds by slowly getting angry, and finally has a yuppie hissy-fit and goes for a walk, cruising the streets of the city for some action. Nearly everyone he meets responds to him sexually, and he ends up at a very strange, very slow orgy. Film orgies can be erotic, arousing, silly, disgusting, or disturbing, but this was the first one I've seen that was boring.
The score starts out with Chris Isaak's "Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing." (Evidently he was signing about the people who made the movie.) But it quickly degenerates to a shrill one…note…at…a…time piano "tune" that is designed to create tension and foreboding, but only creates annoyance. Expect your mute button to get a workout.
Nicole Kidman has never been much of an actress (I'm tempted to steal the Dorothy Parker line "Her emotions run the gamut from A to B") and her husband is very careful not to upstage her in this movie. His acting improves in the scenes he doesn't share with her, but you still get the feeling that you're watching an actor. Several supporting actors do much better. Sidney Pollack does a great understated performance as Victor Ziegler, Bill's wealthy friend. Allan Cumming does a very amusing bit as the hotel desk clerk. And during her brief appearances Leelee Sobieski oozes sexuality without saying a word.
The movie gets one star for style and craftsmanship. The photography is impeccable, and unmistakably Kubrick. Every aspect of every scene, including the lighting and the camera movement, is done with care and attention to detail. This makes the movie even more disappointing, though. It's not a bad movie by accident or incompetence, it's a bad movie by design.
Kubrick didn't make many films, but will always be remembered as one of American's greatest directors. Dr. Strangelove was a masterpiece. Clockwork Orange is unforgettable. Every scene from 2001 is woven into our culture. I even liked The Shining. (The trick is to realize and accept it has nothing to do with the book.) It's unfortunate that he signs off with this one. Although critics have gone ga-ga over it, impressed with it's distinct style and novelty, most of us will have a hard time keeing our eyes wide open.
Gratuitous Nudity: Kubrick never misses a chance to show T&A, and quite a bit of P. Every other scene features naked or nearly naked women. Only a true master like Kubrick could make an excess of lovely naked female bodies boring.
© 2000 Dave Hitt
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