Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer, Winona Ryder

The oh-so-civilized byways of 1870's New York society traversed in this painterly adaptation of Edith Wharton's masterwork are a far cry from the explosive mean streets of director Martin Scorsese's early movies. But the weapons—gossip, innuendo and social ostracism—are no less deadly.

Day-Lewis, a member of a fine old family, is engaged to Ryder, a member of an equally fine old family. Until now, he has encountered no problem more vexing than trying to convince his fiancée to advance the date of their wedding. Then he is reacquainted with Ryder's cousin (Pfeiffer), who has returned home to begin divorce proceedings against her spouse, a brute of a Polish count. Everyone has always thought of Pfeiffer as, well, not quite one of us. She did, after all, wear black to her coming-out party. But divorce? It is simply not done. Day-Lewis, pressed into service to keep Pfeiffer from disgracing the family, instead falls in love with her and now must choose between passion and duly.

Wharton was a novelist of interiors, both physical and emotional. While the movie delivers a full measure of the former—there are endless pans across walls of fine paintings and tables of beautifully arranged food and flowers—the latter is lacking. The fact is, The Age of Innocence is inhabited by characters either unwilling or unable to take action, a difficult thing to dramatize and a problem never resolved in Scorsese's adaptation. He opts, instead, for distractions and devices—for example, having his players recite the contents of letters and telegrams directly into the camera. It's a technique that distances the audience from the story almost as much as the busy camerawork and the narration (by Joanne Woodward).

Neither Pfeiffer, who looks as though she just stepped off a Renoir canvas, nor Day-Lewis get much beyond one-dimensional, muted portrayals. Ryder, who shines as a rigidly conformist society matron, provides the film's most quietly chilling moment, in which she contrives a story that dooms the relationship between her now husband and her cousin. Best is Miriam Margolyes as the family matriarch. "People are going to be expecting a funeral," she snorts after her quick recovery from a stroke. "And now they'll have to be entertained." (PG)

Sherilyn Fenn, Julian Sands, Bill Paxton

Kim Basinger has made mistakes in her life, but transporting herself out of the cast of this tedious, perverse movie wasn't one of them. Its title sounds like the story of a prizefighting cosmetician. No such luck. The director, Jennifer Lynch, shares the distaste her father, David, has for straightforward storytelling in projects like Twin Peaks (though she lacks his sense of humor and amusing detail). So this story of a surgeon obsessed with a slutty young woman is told in a dizzying mélange of flashbacks, dream sequences, fantasies, flapdoodles and total wig-outs.

Fenn, Peaks' femme énigmatique, plays the title heroine, a role that was at various times reported to be destined for Basinger, Madonna and almost every other female this side of Hillary Clinton. A kind of genteel bar girl, Fenn has caught the attention of Sands—chief surgeon at a hospital in some unspecified city—in one of the few events not flashed back to at some point in this movie. They have apparently had one date, enough for Fenn to realize Sands is a total wuss. She keeps brushing him off, while he pursues her with insane devotion, enriching a local florist and even hosting a party for her at his estate.

Finally he resorts to capriciously amputating her arms and legs so she'll be dependent on him. (At this point, one wonders what kind of medical insurance Fenn has—and whether Sands' malpractice policy is up to date.) To suggest that this is all somehow metaphorical—about, say, men's possessive attitude toward women—is spurious, tantamount to saying that a baby who splatters a spoonful of oatmeal on the wall is making a philosophical statement.

Nor is the film serious enough to seem misogynist, even though Lynch wrote the story from an idea by male producer Philippe Caland. if there is any sexism involved, it is man bashing. The surgeon is a whiney, monumentally dense buffoon; when he joins his best friend, another doctor (Art Garfunkel), it looks like a simp convention. Paxton, as Fenn's thuggish boyfriend, seems relatively sympathetic.

The chunky Fenn never seems rapturously gorgeous enough to inspire Sands' passion, and the only acting required of her is to look constantly stricken. And the notorious sex scenes, which reportedly had threatened to draw an NC-17 rating, are chaste and implicit by modern standards, though tiresomely frequent. While much is made of Sands' suffering from premature ejaculation, that is in fact the movie's problem: Once it has displayed the amputations, Boxing collapses in an impotent lump. (R)

Kim Basinger, Val Kilmer

Basinger, out on parole after a six-year prison stint for bank robbery, wants to bond with the son (Zaeh English) whom she left behind and in the dark about her criminal past. But when she meets with her loutish former husband (Gailard Sartain) to talk about visitation possibilities, he explains that English, to be spared pain and humiliation, has been told she died. Basinger is understandably eager to set the record straight and to go straight. Her former partner-in-crime (Terence Stamp), meanwhile, is eager for her to pull off another heist, and he can be a pretty darn persuasive fellow. He arranges for Basinger's slime-bucket parole officer (Ravnor Scheine) to kidnap English, then has Basinger roughed up a bit, assuring her, "I don't want to hurt you. I just want the bank." No bank, no boy—it's as simple as that. So Basinger signs on for one last job.

The money is the only thing that adds up in The Real McCoy. Why Basinger (in a vapid performance) chose this particular line of work is never made clear. Nor is it plausible that she-would choose as the driver of her getaway car a man (Kilmer) she witnessed botching the robbery of a convenience store, and, when their car stalls in mid-chase, that she just wouldn't get out and run. No less baffling is her son's reaction to being abducted—even if his prison is a large, well-equipped house. "I like this hostage thing," he enthuses. "I love having a pool." (PG-13)

  • Contributors:
  • Joanne Kaufman,
  • Ralph Novak.