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By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 09, 1994


Barry Levinson
Michael Douglas;
Demi Moore;
Donald Sutherland;
Dennis Miller;
Caroline Goodall
Under 17 restricted

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You have to admit it’s an awkward situation. A lover from long ago not only resurfaces, but gets the promotion you thought was yours and becomes your boss. What’s worse, she looks like a trillion dollars and seems to want to pick up right where you left off. Never mind that you’re happily married and not the slightest bit interested. She sets up a meeting for the end of the day, chills a bottle of your favorite wine, dismisses her secretary and begins to eat the buttons off your shirt.

Pop quiz: What do you do?

In “Disclosure,” Barry Levinson’s juicy, smashingly entertaining adaptation of Michael Crichton’s bestseller, Tom (Michael Douglas) says no, repeatedly and without ambiguity. But Meredith (Demi Moore) won’t listen. She knows he wants it. He’s a man, isn’t he?

But Douglas doesn’t play Tom as a man, really, and that’s where the naughty, satiric fun begins. As Tom, Douglas is a demure, fragile thing. His lawyer wife, Susan (Caroline Goodall), thinks he doesn’t know how to stand up for himself—that he’s “too nice.” After the assault, he’s so clueless about office politics that he calls Susan to help him figure out what to do. And when he can’t reach her, he goes to his secretary and asks what she thinks Susan would tell him to do. Bambi-eyed and innocent, he’s like a housewife from a ’50s television sitcom. And when Meredith puts the rush on him, his reactions are like a droll parody of virginal helplessness.

The twist on the standard sexual harassment scenario was there in Crichton’s original, but Levinson and screenwriter Paul Attanasio (“Quiz Show”) have done more than simply turn the tables on a controversial issue. They’ve taken the overheated sexual atmosphere of the modern workplace and used it as a backdrop for a whooping satire on cutthroat corporate ambition.

The true subject of “Disclosure”—the book and the movie—isn’t sexual harassment, per se; it’s power and career advancement and how sex, now that women have become major corporate players, can be used as a weapon for getting ahead. The spirit of the film, though, is snazzier and more playful than Crichton’s rather thin, humorless schematic. Clearly, the thought of a man saying “no” to this foxy bombshell is, if not outright hilarious, an insult to credulity. Realizing that the audience is almost certain to laugh, the filmmakers have simply joined in on the joke. The subject is serious; thankfully, the movie is not.

Actually, it’s built like a thriller. The plot involving Tom and Meredith is only one of the movie’s narrative tracks. The other involves a series of problems that Tom, as DigiCom’s VP in charge of advanced operations, is having with a sexy, high-speed CD-ROM player. With a high-profile merger in its final stages, DigiCom must reassure its potential partner that problems with the drive can be easily rectified. While Tom attempts to soothe those fears, though, Meredith undercuts him by switching strategies and making him look incompetent.

Meanwhile, on the morning after, Tom arrives at the office to find that Meredith has accused him of sexual assault. Though she doesn’t intend to press charges, the incident has convinced Meredith that she cannot work with Tom. He is offered a “lateral move” to a plant in Austin. Faced with losing everything—wife, family and job, plus millions in stock options—Tom finally decides to stand up and defend his honor by hiring a lawyer (Roma Maffia).

Not surprisingly, Meredith’s account of her after-hours meeting with Tom casts him as the aggressor. Considering that Meredith is about as defenseless as Medea—dressed to kill in her minis and high heels—this attempt to play the victim confirms our suspicions that she is the ultimate evil femme fatale: a withering, grasping predator. From the moment we lay eyes on her, it’s clear this swanky dish will do anything to advance her career, including using Tom’s libido as a battering ram to crash through the glass ceiling.

Clearly, Moore is having a blast playing this man-eater; whenever she does something truly despicable, a secret smile crosses her lips. As for Douglas, he spends most of his time looking as if he’s been thwacked between the eyes with a rock. With movies such as “Fatal Attraction,” “Basic Instinct” and “Falling Down,” Douglas has become Hollywood’s designated point man for Zeitgeist issues. Here, he embodies that newest of endangered species, the great white male. Complete with paunch and double chin, Douglas seems to take almost as much relish in his part as Moore does in hers.

Unfortunately, his character is too much of a milquetoast to be a match for the omnivorous Meredith—at least in terms of on-screen appeal. Though some may see the film as an apologia for the embattled white businessman and an attack on working women, the filmmakers have gone to some lengths to show that only those few, unscrupulous women—like Meredith—will use their sexual charms to get what they want. The others—his wife, his lawyer, his secretary—are honest professionals. In the end, Meredith thinks she is being scapegoated because she isn’t sweet and deferential—because she’s strong and likes sex. Too much like a man, perhaps.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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