The Thomas Crown Affair
Director: John McTiernan
Screenplay: Leslie Dixon & Kurt Wimmer, from the script by Alan R. Trustman
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Rene Russo, Denis Leary
NY Distribution Status: now playing (MGM)

Grade: B-

Short version: glorious opening, ho-hum midsection, sharp conclusion, drippy denouement. Slightly longer version: the bookends, both set in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, are marvelous, inventive Rube Goldberg set pieces -- the kind of ludicrously elaborate heists in which, for instance, somebody casually places a briefcase in a particular spot and several minutes elapse before you discover its unexpected function (hint: there's nothing of interest inside). Not since the original Die Hard has McTiernan demonstrated such casual precision; the Magritte-inspired climax, in particular, is so geometrically complicated that it looks like a square dance as choreographed by Escher. In between these two highlights, as our heroes engage in some rather perfunctory feline/rodent manuevering (and often seem like little more than obstacles blocking our view of mind-bogglingly expensive furnishings), the movie sags considerably -- mostly because Brosnan, for all his considerable charm, makes Crown an impeccably tailored cipher. (The title must be ironic: it's hard to imagine this guy having anything so vulgar or so trivial -- depending upon which definition of the word you prefer -- as an Affair.) What little emotional steam the movie is able to build up is courtesy of Russo, who -- and you'll have to trust me when I say that the following remark is not 100% prurient -- should get naked onscreen a lot more often; taking her clothes off seems to loosen her up a bit, and without her armor she evinces a combination of maturity and goofiness that's surprisingly beguiling. (She hinted at those qualities in Tin Cup, but there she was trying for a screwball-dame approach that was well beyond her range; here, for the most part, she hits her marks.) For a brief moment, when it seemed as if the film might maybe possibly cross-your-fingers end on a bittersweet note emphasizing the importance of trust, I was suckered into giving a damn; then, of course, the requisite Happy Ending surfaced, and I was left to scowl at the closing credits as Sting crooned a remake of the hit song from the '68 version (which I haven't yet seen) in my much-offended ears. I'd happily complain some more, but two great scenes is two more than most studio flicks can manage these days; I'm learning to be grateful for small pleasures. Or trying, anyway.