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'World': Hollow at the Core

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 11, 2001


    'The Center of the World' Peter Sarsgaard and Molly Parker in "The Center of the World."
(Meila Penn)
Let me get to the story in Wayne Wang's "The Center of the World" right away.

Richard Longman (Peter Sarsgaard), a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, has just made a killing. He's another slacker-billionaire-to-be. But Richard, who somehow hasn't got the emotional software for a decent relationship, offers a part-time stripper named Florence (Molly Parker) money for three days with him in Las Vegas.

She rejects his offer. She's not a hooker. The stripping just pays the rent. Richard insists he just wants to get to know her. He'll pay for her missed wages. He offers $10,000. She's intrigued. She agrees, provided he accepts these conditions: No kissing on the mouth, no discussion of feelings, no sexual penetration and the right to her own room and her own hours (10 at night till 2 a.m.)

Basically, this movie is the equivalent of the misogynistic joke in which a rich man offers a woman $1 million to sleep with him. After hemming and hawing, she agrees. He then counters with a new offer: One dollar for the same thing.

"What do you think I am?" she protests.

"We've already established that," he replies. "Now we're quibbling about the price."

A long time ago, in 1972, the psychic epicenter of the world was rocked by a risque art film called "Last Tango in Paris." Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider starred in this movie about a couple who pursued a relationship based only on sex. Naturally, they couldn't keep from falling in love.

It was a great movie, then. And after watching "Center of the World," it seems better still. "Center of the World" is instantly forgettable.

For one thing, we live in a world where porn is as available as pizza by credit card. We don't have a shockable psychic epicenter any more. And for another, Wang's digitally filmed drama is intellectually banal. There's no raison d'etre. The why-we're-watching question remains unanswered. And as far as the sexuality goes, it's nothing to get into a lather about, unless you (like Richard) have spent way too much time on the Internet.

"Desire carries two young people into deep, uncharted emotional waters," blabs the press kit for this movie. Just what uncharted waters are we talking about? This feels more like a quick splash in the kiddie pool.

Filmmaker Wang (who has assembled an impressive résumé that includes "Chan Is Missing," "Eat a Bowl of Tea" and "Smoke") seems too overwhelmed with the allure of his subject to come up with anything other than mundane philosophical questions.

Is it noteworthy and stirring to watch a film in which one computer slacker discovers sex, his paid companion agonizes endlessly over whether or not she's a prostitute, (Yes, you are, Flo) and the movie poses (and doesn't even answer) the stunningly uninteresting question: Can money buy you love?

I guess these questions plus nudity equals one movie drowning in uncharted waters and way off-center in any world.

The Center of the World (Unrated, 86 minutes) – Contains sexual scenes, nudity and obscenity.At Visions/Cinema/Bistro/Lounge.


© Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company

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