Indecent Proposal Movie Review

There are great erotic film experiences and wrenching emotional film experiences. Indecent Proposal tries awkwardly to be both and ends up as neither. Perhaps, with a premise so salaciously bent on hidden desires, the filmmakers thought a maudlin tale of deep love would be the perfect counterbalance. Instead, the film is an uneasy mixture of overwrought soap opera and softcore eroticism. The soap opera outweighs the eroticism and drowns the movie, but even the awkwardly placed sex scenes are so heavy-handed they can't keep things afloat. Here is a movie simultaneously preoccupied with getting viewers hot and bothered and manipulating them into ambivalent emotional turmoil. The combination is not very arousing.

The zesty, scandalous plot device at the center of the film and the sole reason the movie became a fairly big hit in 1993 can be summed up in one line: "Suppose... I were to offer you one million dollars for one night with your wife." And yes, that surface exposition is intriguing in its glossy, high-concept way. But in truth, the appeal of that tantalizing conundrum gets lost in a muddle of a screenplay that really is not about that spicy million-dollar offer, but rather a tepid, long-winded story of a relationship tested by temptation. In theory, the material could work. In practice, Indecent Proposal is a bland, melodramatic sit.

Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson are Diana and David, who have been married for several years and whose bond is so strong it could only be broken by... well, a need for money so desperate that David would sell Diana off to a billionaire for a night. The couple met in high school, fell in love, and built a life together while pursuing their individual dreams. For Diana, it was real estate; for David, architecture. They combine their passions to develop their dream house: a large beachfront property in Santa Monica. They take out loans, invest their money, and pour their lives into the project -- until a recession hits, finances collapse, and David and Diana find themselves $50,000(!) in debt. All of this is, of course, a labored setup for the million-dollar question, conveyed in some pretty dense, uninteresting narration that replaces legitimate human drama with the languorous verbal explanation of a novel. That's understandable, since the film is based on a novel by Jack Engelhard, but not acceptable, because film should be able to convey its details visually, not through endless off-screen ramblings.

When the narration finally stops, David gets an idea: Take $5,000 to Vegas and magically turn it into enough to erase all the debt and make everything right. Since we know the "indecent proposal" is still on the horizon, we know this plan will fail. But the movie still wades through a good 20 minutes of success, in which the couple wins $25,000 in one night, act as if they are invincible, have sex on a pile of money, and then promptly lose it all shortly thereafter. Enter John Gage (Robert Redford), a well-known, distinguished billionaire who treats Vegas casinos like giant piggy banks. Gage takes an immediate interest in Diana, and soon he is cornering the couple in his luxurious suite, offering a million bucks for "one night."

Indecent Proposal unfolds not so much as a story of sex and infidelity, but one of emotional bonds that shatter more easily than either party might have imagined. David becomes viciously jealous and Diana is forced to choose between her marital bond and the powerful seduction of an attractive billionaire. The material itself is promising -- the intricacies of love and lust are complex and fascinating subjects -- but this film is only interesting in exploring those complexities through a layer of sensuous gauze. Adrian Lyne, director of many other melodramas with sexual undertones (and sometimes overtones) like 9 1/2 Weeks, Fatal Attraction, Lolita, and Unfaithful, directs this film as Zalman King might direct an episode of One Life to Live. There is an overabundance of soft-lit scenery and frequent attention is paid to Demi Moore's physique in close-up, but the film's emotional resonance never reaches far beyond a tearful glance and an orchestral swell of romantic music.

The acting is as honest as it can possibly be under the circumstances. Redford lays on the suave and still hints that there is depth and wisdom beneath the surface. Harrelson deftly exudes the pain of a man stubborn with insecurity. Moore is playing a blank slate of a character, and as such her performance is notably less interesting than her male counterparts, but she still finds a resonant emotional center. These performances in a movie that played this material quieter, without the over-the-top flash and dramatic gauze, might have worked. In its current form, however, Indecent Proposal is just a lukewarm melodrama that works overtime to earn the label "another erotic drama from the director of 9 1/2 Weeks."

The new "Benjamins" set from Bed Bath & Beyond.


Indecent Proposal Rating

" Grim "

Rating: R, 1993


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