It’s axiomatic in Hollywood that everyone can be bought, so it’s too bad that Hollywood couldn’t come up with a better way to express one of its most cherished beliefs than “Indecent Proposal.” A provocative premise, megawatt star power and high-gloss production values guarantee potent early business, but aren’t enough to forestall risible audience reaction and word-of-mouth that will prevent Adrian Lyne’s latest from sporting the kind of long-distance B.O. legs Paramount needs.
This is one of those high-concept pictures with a big windup and weak delivery. On paper, a film in which billionaire Robert Redford offers down-on-their-luck married couple Woody Harrelson and Demi Moore a cool million in exchange for one night with Demi sounds surefire. Onscreen, the result has little sex, goes nowhere interesting or believable in the second long hour, and sports an idiotic conclusion that looks like Test Marketing Ending No. 6.
Plot somewhat resembles that of last year’s “Honeymoon in Vegas,” although people will argue over which picture contains more laughs. Director Lyne spends the first reel or so establishing the fact that college sweethearts Harrelson and Moore really love each other and still enjoy ripping each other’s clothes off. But the recession has dented his architectural career and her real estate sales. Needing $ 50,000 to hold onto the house they’re building, they head for Vegas in the hope of a lucky roll of the dice.
But when they hit bottom, fate appears in the guise of Redford, a handsome high roller who first calls upon Moore for good luck, sets the couple up in an opulent suite and buys her a fancy dress before making the Proposition. After instinctively saying no, Harrelson and Moore spend a sleepless night mulling it over, with Moore finally concluding that she can go through with it without any emotional consequences, that it will make the future possible for her and her husband.
So off she flies in Redford’s helicopter to his yacht, while Harrelson goes drunkenly off the deep end. Pic’s second half similarly unravels, as Harrelson can’t erase what happened from his mind, defies their prior agreement by demanding to know all about the Night and how good the sex was, and passively allows his wife to fall into the manipulative Redford’s waiting arms and Rolls-Royce.
Ending is Hollywood hokum in its purest form, so silly as to undercut the goodwill even of viewers who might have bought into the story up until then, and exacerbated by John Barry’s most syrupy score ever.
Despite the misfired storytelling, tale holds plenty of commercial appeal simply because the central issues involved are so compelling and provide something to talk about afterward. Is everyone for sale if the price is right, and what is the price? When are ethics and morals absolute, and when are they relative? How much would it take for a guy to let his wife sleep with Robert Redford? Could a woman do such a thing and then just carry on with her husband as if nothing had happened?
Unfortunately, script by Amy Holden Jones (the same Amy Jones who directed “Love Letters” and “Maid to Order” and co-wrote “Beethoven” and “Mystic Pizza”) delves into these issues only sporadically, and Lyne is not the sort of director to dwell meaningfully on philosophical nuances.
With their talent for making even grunge look glamorous, Lyne and lenser Howard Atherton dwell lovingly on the surface opulence of Las Vegas and the luxury of Redford’s lifestyle. Dressed impeccably and smiling nearly all the time, Redford glides through the action like a latter-day Jay Gatsby, a man who has it all except a woman to love.
In the only scene designed to give Redford’s character any depth, screenwriter Jones has pilfered shamelessly from Everett Sloane’s great monologue in “Citizen Kane” about the girl he saw fleetingly one day in his youth and can never forget. Another key motif, that of a silver dollar with two heads and no tails, is ripped off from “Only Angels Have Wings.” Anyone who remembers those two classics will be embarrassed for the poverty of imagination this ascribes to the present filmmakers.
What emotional legitimacy the film does possess stems from Moore’s performance, which is lively, heartfelt and believable until the script ceases to permit it.
After all the legal turmoil surrounding his hiring for the part, it’s ironic that Harrelson is the weak link here, as his expressiveness is limited to puppydog love in the first section and standard-issue jealousy in the second. Standout supporting turn comes from Oliver Platt, who gets off some genuinely funny lines and looks as Harrelson’s friend and attorney who is brought in to write up a contract for Moore’s services to Redford and insists that he could have gotten twice the price. Seymour Cassel has nothing to do as Redford’s aide-de-camp.
Sex scenes between Moore and Harrelson are attractive but abbreviated, and some viewers will no doubt be disappointed not to get a glimpse of what goes on between Moore and Redford.
Tech credits are ultralush, although Moore has been saddled with some silly looking shorts and suspenders outfits. John Barry’s sticky-gooey score is spiced up by quite a few pop tunes.