- The Washington Times - Friday, May 10, 2002

''Unfaithful" alerts us to the prurient potential in a fable about the wages of adultery: Diane Lane as an enviably situated housewife named Connie Sumner risks seemingly idyllic domesticity in suburban White Plains, N.Y., with Richard Gere and their little boy in order to luxuriate in stolen afternoons with Olivier Martinez, a seductive French bibliophile, in Manhattan.
Illicit rapture makes Connie so unwary that her husband, Ed, who owns an armored-car company, becomes suspicious. The upshot is a homicide, whose grave implications still perplex the surviving characters as the movie whimpers to an enigmatic fade-out.
There's a sense in which the title also might be regarded as ironic. "Unfaithful" marks the return of director Adrian Lyne to the genre of glossy, soft-core rubbish that has proved his fortune and distinguishing specialty.
He's keeping faith with his most titillating and lucrative tendencies, if nothing else. It will now be easy to package an exploitable and pseudocautionary trilogy for armchair adulterers consisting of Mr. Lyne's "Fatal Attraction," "Indecent Proposal" and "Unfaithful."
In returning to the glorification of a fatally indecent setup, Mr. Lyne displays his flair for exaggerating almost every illustrative detail in a portentous and often arbitrary way. The scene-setting images at the Sumner home teem with premature melancholy: a composition of the handsome residence mirrored in a placid miniature lake; an empty rowboat; a bike that falls, presumably from a gust of wind; tinkling chimes; a pooch that stirs.
When Connie heads off for her fateful date with temptation on what could be the windiest day in New York history, a runaway grocery cart crosses her path at the White Plains train station. Wow. Can anyone match Adrian Lyne for dropping more symbols and intimations of trouble than you can shake a stick at?
It also amuses him to litter the screen with such red herrings as images of potential lethal weapons a pair of scissors, a kitchen knife that don't turn out to be the lethal weapon that actually results in a fatality in "Unfaithful."
Mr. Lyne strews clues as if he were Hansel and Gretel scattering a hailstorm of bread crumbs to mark the path.
Even the hot interludes are reduced to picturesque cliche, suggesting that the director is about 10 times as overheated as the heroine is supposed to be.
For example, I was puzzled by the fact that Paul Martell, the snake in the grass portrayed by Mr. Martinez, seemed to be in an all-fired hurry when Connie was becoming putty in his clutches during their third brief encounter at his book-cluttered SoHo flat. Wouldn't most men want to savor the sensation a little more if someone who looked like Diane Lane were available and yielding?
Mr. Lyne is also competing with his own legend in laughably dynamic ways, so if Michael Douglas and Glenn Close had that torrid interlude in the kitchen, it stands to reason that Miss Lane and Mr. Martinez would pretend to trump them in a restaurant bathroom or the landing outside Paul's apartment door.
Paul, the rascal, starts getting awfully public about their passion. Connie is so obliging that she even surrenders during a revival of "Mr. Hulot's Holiday" at the Village East Cinema. That Hulot always was an incitement to mad make-outs.
Because Adrian Lyne on the make has always impressed me as a reliable source of unintentional hilarity, I kind of welcomed every trembling, overexplicit cliche that saturated "Unfaithful."
Taking it to heart requires an unreasonable measure of self-deception, even when Mr. Lyne is pretending to depict acts of murder and body disposal. He's such a stylistic fancy pants that even the gravest situations turn picturesque to a fault as a result of superfluous embroidery or misplaced ironies.
For example, it's not really a brilliant idea to intercut a Thanksgiving Day dinner with the discovery of Paul's corpse amid the debris at a city dump. One is too inclined to think of the corpse as a turkey that gets away from the hovering flocks of birds.
After "A Walk on the Moon" and "Unfaithful," Diane Lane is pretty much the boss lady when it comes to impersonating wayward wives.
The trick is to keep straining credulity so that the risks of dalliance so outweigh the rewards that even the most credulous moviegoers will marvel at the willingness of Miss Lane's characters to remain prisoners of love.
Surrendering to Viggo Mortensen in the absence of hard-working spouse Liev Schreiber in the lower-middle-class context of "Moon" seemed more forgivable than jeopardizing White Plains and Richard Gere for a Frenchman who intuits that a thin volume of Omar Khayyam will be a shortcut to conquest.
Maybe it's foolishly patriotic of me, but I like to think of Connie Sumner as being harder to disgrace. Couldn't she hold out for, say, an anthology of Lord Byron?


*1/2
TITLE: "Unfaithful"
RATING: R (Frequent sexual candor and prurience; occasional profanity, nudity and simulations of intercourse; occasional graphic violence with gruesome illustrative details)
CREDITS: Directed by Adrian Lyne
RUNNING TIME: Two hours
MAXIMUM RATING: 4 STARS


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