The original version of The Thomas Crown Affair, which was released in 1968, was no masterpiece. It did, however, have a couple of advantages -- in particular, its stars, Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. The remake features Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo. Let me repeat: Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. Pierce (why, yes, that is a sarong) Brosnan and Rene Russo. Also, the original was directed by Norman Jewison, who every once in a while gets it in his head to do something wonderful. The wonderful thing he did in 1968 was to open his lens completely to the electricity coursing between McQueen and Dunaway, two of the movies' most potent sexual thoroughbreds, who were then in the prime of their sensuality. They cook on screen, whereas Brosnan and Russo barely simmer.
Both the original and the remake are shallow and glossy, which is like saying that a donut is nothing but empty calories. However, there are empty calories, and there are empty calories. In the remake, which is directed by John McTiernan from a screenplay by Leslie Dixon and Kurt Wimmer and a story by Alan R. Trustman, Brosnan (playing Thomas Crown) is a man at the top of his own megamultinational conglomerate -- which means he is richer than God, so rich that no loss of money could bother him for even a fraction of a second.
For months the immaculately tailored Crown has been visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art to visit his favorite impressionist painting, a van Gogh. The guard, with whom Crown has become best buddies, informs him one day that most knowledgeable people go first to the Monet at his right -- the painting that started the impressionist movement and is valued at around $100 million. "Nope," Crown says. "Give me my haystacks."
A little later that afternoon, the air conditioning at the Met goes down, and suddenly there's commotion in the impressionist gallery. Crown pops up at about the same time that a complicated break-in starts to fall apart. Taking advantage of the distraction, Crown quickly grabs a painting off the wall and puts it inside a specially designed briefcase. After that, all he does is blend in with the crowd -- that is, after extending a foot, tripping up one of the intruders, thereby causing the would-be thief's capture. Easy as pie.
So easy, in fact, that when Catherine Banning (Russo), an investigator with the insurance company that covers the painting, sees that Crown is among the witnesses to the theft, she knows he is the man they're looking for. At this point the remake, like the original, departs from the standard scenario by having the investigator go straight for Crown, eventually seducing him (or allowing herself to be seduced). (In a nice touch, the remake gives Dunaway a role as Crown's psychoanalyst, who, when she hears about his new playmate, tosses her lion's mane of hair and roars with laughter. Would that we all were having so much fun.)
Though Brosnan looks dapper in his rich threads, he doesn't seem to enjoy them, or anything else, for that matter. This is the problem with Brosnan in the Bond films, as well. He is insufficiently infused with the spirit of fun; he comes across as a prig. Crown is supposed to be the ultimate pleasure-seeker, the sole truly free man alive who does everything for fun, but he doesn't look as if he's having much fun here. What he looks like is an obsessive-compulsive going through his paces. It's less an "affair" and more like a case study.
Of course perhaps Brosnan is insufficiently motivated. Russo, who for inexplicable reasons has been one of the few models to successfully make the transition to films, proves that she still remembers how to be a model. Given a wardrobe that needs a model's body to bring it off, she throws her whole self into playing the role of a femme fatale, but what comes across most clearly is her effort. With the exception of one scene where she sits casually on the beach without her top, Russo's conception of sex has more to do with sweat than with pheromones. Then Brosnan shows up in his sarong. What were they thinking?