Sometimes, watching a new film from an established director is a little like contemplating a new Tory leader or an incumbent Archbishop of Canterbury: only when you view the new one do you really begin to appreciate his predecessor. Can there be anyone who believes, seriously, that IDS is half as good as William Hague? Or that George Carey is anything more than a threadbare patch on Robert Runcie? Similarly, it was only while watching Adrian Lyne's latest film,Unfaithful, that I began to appreciate one of his previous creations, the hugely successful Fatal Attraction, which became a cultural phenomenon in 1987. After all, this was a film that brought the phrase "bunny boiler" to the dictionary of male/female relations. (Just in case you didn't see it, a "bunny boiler" is any woman of uncertain mental health with whom a man is contemplating casual sexual relations.)
Fatal Attraction wasn't a good film; and certainly it was nowhere near as good as its six Oscar nominations seemed - incredibly - to suggest that it was. With a high concept that looks like Play Misty for Me meets Halloween, Fatal Attraction now appears a parody of itself. For a while, Lyne was mentioned in the same intoxicated breath as Hitchcock, but the film, especially the ending, was much too OTT to stand a comparison of this sort. Hitch would never have re-shot an ending to suit a preview audience, as happened with Fatal Attraction. Still, at least that film had a bit of life to it; and Michael Douglas and Glenn Close did make a pleasingly libidinous couple.
Although Unfaithful lacks the obvious vulgarities of Fatal Attraction, it hasn't any of its impact; just as bad, while Fatal Attraction broke the rules and, in an effort to be surprising, borrowed some of the clothes of the horror genre, Lyne's latest film quickly surrenders to what is obvious and predictable. It is clear from the very beginning and the scarlet letters of the opening title sequence that this film, about an adulterous woman living in upstate New York, is just as chock-full of cliches as any of the British director's other previous - and, it is fair to say, rather prurient - work (9f Weeks, Indecent Proposal, Lolita).
Connie Sumner (Diane Lane) is a fortysomething Stepford wife type who takes a trip into Manhattan on a blustery day; but unlike Pooh, who finds himself blown all the way through Hundred Acre Wood to Owl's House, Connie is tumbled into the arms of Paul Martel (Olivier Martinez), a floppy-haired, doe-eyed, cocksure second-hand book dealer from France. As Connie is married to Richard Gere and they have a nine-year-old son who looks like a refugee from Middle Earth, it is obvious that the poor woman is bored to distraction and dying for some good sex. Now as Paul Newman used to say, "Why fool around with hamburger when you have steak at home?" That was all very well for him and, one imagines, his wife, Joanne Woodward. But, looking at Gere's lugubrious Mary Celeste of a face (I bet this is a guy who plays a really good game of poker), I could not help feeling that Connie seemed like a woman with nothing in the fridge but a few cold sausages; and under the circumstances, I could hardly fault her hunger for a nice juicy steak.
The film is beautifully photographed and the sex - some if it - is really quite sexy, but I was soon bored and looking forward to Connie being rumbled, if only to see what Gere's numismatic features would make of this emotional acting requirement. They endured the discovery of his wife's infidelity exactly as I had expected: with all the nickelled stoicism of the head on a five-cent piece. Film-goers with a forensic interest in these things should catch the movie if only to see what an actor looks like when he is trying to act his way out of a wet paper bag and failing dismally. This is Gere's picture, after all; anyone who thinks otherwise might care to note a credit sequence that includes a costumer for Mr Gere, make-up artist for Mr Gere and hairstylist for Mr Gere, but none for his leading lady. I kid you not.
Briefly, I was willing to excuse Gere's Spock-like detachment from the matter of his wife's bonk with le bouquiniste; perhaps, like me, he found that the cliche of an affair with a romantic Frenchman was inherently unbelievable in 2002. After all, 17.8 per cent of Frenchmen are racists; the chain-smoking, narcissistic but sartorially challenged majority are still living in the men's shops of the Seventies, wearing green sports jackets, tasselled loafers, short-sleeved shirts and YSL ties. So why do film directors still pay lip-service to the codswallop that there exists, among English-speaking women, a generally held perception that Frenchmen are sexy? Yves Montand has been dead almost 11 years. And the French idea of a rock star is Johnny Hallyday, for Pete's sake.
Here, the answer might just have something to do with Unfaithful turning out to be nothing more than a remake of one of Claude Chabrol's masterpieces of French Sixties cinema, La Femme Infidele. In the final analysis, this particular fantasy Frenchman looks suspiciously like Adrian Lyne's attempt to legitimise his own artistic vision by making reference to the lover in the superior Chabrol.
Unfaithful (15) is on general release from 15 June