Picks and Pans Review: Lolita

updated 08/03/1998 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/03/1998 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Showtime (Sun., Aug. 2, 9 p.m. ET)

Show of the week

In the afterword to Lolita, his classic 1955 novel about a middle-aged professor's sexual relationship with a girl in early adolescence, Vladimir Nabokov wrote that the reluctance of American publishers to take on the book "was based not on my treatment of the theme but on the theme itself." The same could be suggested of the major studios' unwillingness to distribute Adrian Lyne's 1996 movie version, which will be seen on Showtime before its belated arrival in U.S. theaters in September. The film is erotic but not pornographic. Compared with most of the director's output—9½ Weeks, Fatal Attraction, Indecent Proposal—his Lolita is a model of taste and seriousness. But that may not be all to the good. In 1962, Stanley Kubrick brought Lolita to the screen as a very dark comedy. The remake stresses the tragic aspects of Nabokov's tale, sacrificing too much of its wit. Still, there's a great deal to admire in Jeremy Irons's performance as Humbert Humbert, whose obsession with the title character leads to humiliation and ruin. Irons conveys what Humbert calls his "shame and melancholy and despair." In short, he makes a sex criminal human. Those who do not reject Lolita based on "the theme itself" will respect the actor's accomplishment. As Lolita, Dominique Swain (Face/Off) is believably seductive and believably childish. Lyne's and Kubrick's Lolitas differ most strikingly in the depiction of Clare Quilty, Humbert's mysterious rival for the nymphet's affections. Frank Langella plays him as an effete monster; Peter Sellers turned the role into something of a romp.

Bottom Line: Will offend some but deserves to be seen

From Our Partners