- The Washington Times - Friday, May 11, 2001

A double dose of low-budget disillusionment, "The Center of the World" makes a feeble case for prurient interest while also casting doubt on the suitability of digital video cameras for capturing dramatic intimacy or immediacy in the raw.
Evidently nostalgic for the furor surrounding "Last Tango in Paris," director Wayne Wang contrived this "Lust Weekend in Las Vegas" variation and shot it economically, not to mention unattractively, on digital, emphasizing so much color and image degradation in the erotic clinches that the participants look conspicuously unhealthy and unenviable, perhaps betraying Mr. Wang as a furtive Puritan when all is said and done.
Ten minutes with the designated mismatch seems to exhaust any conceivable erotic or human interest in their potential. Peter Sarsgaard — who played the felonious, vindictive young ringleader in "Boys Dont Cry" — is cast as an amorously stunted computer engineer named Richard Longman. He invests $10,000 of a fortune made from an initial public offering (ultimately estimated at $20 million) in a weekend tryst with Molly Parkers Florence, who struggles by day as a rock drummer and writhes by night as a Los Angeles stripper. The characters meet by chance in a coffee shop, where Richard strikes up a conversation.
The price is right for Florence, who sets a quartet of conditions intended to keep things strictly business: no feelings, no kissing, no penetration and cash upfront.
Because Richard is intent on conquest, in a somewhat oblivious and goofball way, the rules suffer a bit of bending and mangling. Nevertheless, Florence manages to limit her strictly carnal exposure to a trio of late-night exhibitions, from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Any evidence that they might be hitting it off as ordinary acquaintances, taking in the sights of Vegas, remains so meager you may be tempted to suggest a few improvisations.
Although Miss Parker made a distinctively eerie and poignant impression as a young woman with a yen for necrophilia in the Canadian feature "Kissed" five years ago, she does not look up to the kinky demands of hard-shelled Florence, or Flo as shes known when things get raunchy.
Indeed, its a little embarrassing to observe that her raunchiest strip routines are being doubled by apparent pros. In the context of the movie itself, shes upstaged by the startling Carla Gugino, cast as a disloyal nympho pal named Jerri, who seizes an opportunity to hit on Richard as a deep-pockets pushover.
Encouraged to let her hair down in one interlude, Miss Gugino pretty much obliterates the ostensible co-stars as objects of erotic curiosity.
The brazen impact of the sequence probably is enhanced by an incongruous coincidence: Miss Gugino just emerged as a respectable favorite as the mom in "Spy Kids," so its a little disconcerting to find her in a grunge-level production, making sordid overtures in a semipornographic fable that might look starved for provocation without her.
Under the circumstances, she seems generous to a fault. When she whispers, "Im sexier" in Mr. Sarsgaards ear, its more than a devastating insult to the other actress on the set. Carla Gugino is sexier than "The Center of the World" could possibly deserve.


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