Infidelity is a chance encounter between vulnerable parties, asserts director Mike Figgis in his latest feature, One Night Stand. The free-floating ethos of that concept is actually the thematic base to this, the follow-up to Figgis' controversial Leaving Las Vegas.
As with his other works, Figgis pulls out the old meta-bag of tricks in exploring the liaison of Max (Wesley Snipes) and Karen (Nastassja Kinski), who have a random fling one night in New York City. Max, a successful Los Angeles-based commercial director, is wrapping up his business when a huge parade gridlocks Manhattan, causing him to miss his flight home. He is bounced back to his hotel, where an earlier moment with Karen is resumed with greater intensity. Their affair takes place in an artfully filmed sequence and the married parties go their separate ways.
Max then works through his residual guilt with his exquisite wife Mimi (Ming-Na Wen of The Joy Luck Club). He also faces grief at the impending death of his best friend Charlie (Robert Downey Jr.), a gay performance artist dying of AIDS. Figgis uses the wasting Charlie as a signifier for the uneasy freedom Max realizes as the neat layers of his former life start to unfurl. The director pulls out all the stops in layering sadness upon sadness onto Charlie's fate: a protracted suffering, Figgis' own sappy, overwrought score and Snipes' crocodile tears.
Snipes is actually the big hit of the movie, packing both subtlety and grace into Max, along with nuances his action pictures never allow for. Wesley redeems himself for all the Passenger 57s with a performance that earned him the Volpi Cup award for best actor at the Venice Film Festival.
Ultimately, though, the film fizzles because of Figgis' own ambitions with an indecisive tale. He has Charlie say, "Life is an orange," to suggest that ambiguity is both right and good. But by refusing to bear any moral weight for the principals' actions, One Night Stand leaves us with little more than a feeling masquerading as philosophy and theme.
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