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‘Indecent Proposal’

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 07, 1993


Adrian Lyne
Robert Redford;
Demi Moore;
Woody Harrelson;
Oliver Platt;
Seymour Cassel
adult themes, sexuality and partial nudity

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"Indecent Proposal" wrestles with one of the greater moral questions of our time: Would you rather spend one night with Robert Redford, thereby earning $1 million, or spend the rest of your life with Woody Harrelson, resident boob on "Cheers"? A tough question, yes, but Adrian Lyne and Sherry Lansing, the prurient pair behind "Fatal Attraction," aren't ones to shrink from the dilemmas that have defined the '80s. And "Indecent Proposal" is definitely '80s. It's a trashy yuppie melodrama that turns on the collapse of the housing market, which causes a failed architect (Harrelson) to hang a "For Sale" sign on his Realtor wife (Demi Moore). Hot on the round heels of "Mad Dog and Glory," it's another picture-book look at prostitution that makes "Pretty Woman" seem like Susan Faludi. Never mind that three women -- Lansing, Moore and screenwriter Amy Holden Jones -- are among those mortgaging their future.

Jones, who punished a mom for returning to work in "Beethoven," now takes out her self-loathing on Moore, a super successful real estate agent happily married to her childhood sweetheart. They're not wealthy -- she's only selling mansions in Beverly Hills -- but they still have fun. "For entertainment, he'd show me architecture that moved him," she confides.

Then the recession brings disaster for this highly leveraged couple: He's laid off, her sales slump and they can't make the mortgage payments on their oceanside dream house, which he designed and built. When the bank threatens foreclosure, he borrows $5,000 from his father, which he hopes to parlay into $50,000 in Las Vegas. This is not a bright idea, of course, but then neither of them is playing with a full deck. All the more reason to stay away from the casinos and get jobs waiting tables.

Matters proceed pretty much as you'd expect, and the couple is soon penniless. In fact, Moore is sneaking chocolates from a pricey casino boutique when she's spotted by a high-rolling billionaire who is instantly besotted with her. (Never mind that Jack Kent Cooke is considered a hunk among billionaires -- this one's played by Redford). Deciding that he must have this truffle-swiping lovely, Redford invites the couple to a lavish party where he makes his indecent proposal to Harrelson -- $1 million for your wife for one night.

In a lame attempt to head off feminist rage, it's Moore who actually accepts the offer. Insisting that she's only doing it for Harrelson, Moore copters off to Redford's yacht, where she is wooed by the courtly moneybags, who has thoughtfully flown in Herbie Hancock to play the piano. A sexpot with a proven propensity for boiling over, Moore is the sort of woman who gardens in a slit skirt and favors fashions designed to prove that Demi has nothing to do with cup size. So we are not surprised that she has a lovely evening. Meanwhile, back in his tacky hotel room, Harrelson realizes that this wasn't such a good idea after all.

When Nicolas Cage found himself in similar circumstances in "Honeymoon in Vegas," he jumped on a plane and went after his fiancee, who had agreed to spend a weekend with an aging hood to pay off a $65,000 gambling debt. There were, of course, subtle differences: The hood promised to be a perfect gentleman and "Honeymoon in Vegas" had flying Elvises. It was also about Cage's character, and this movie is about Moore's. In its twisted heart, "Indecent Proposal" is a bodice-ripper, a deeply silly romance about how painful it is to be torn between two men.

Director Lyne, who has raised our pulses if not our consciousness with "Flashdance" and "9 1/2 Weeks," puts a high-gloss finish on the same old linoleum with "Indecent Proposal." Moore can doubtless see her face in the kitchen floor when she capers under the dinette with Harrelson.

Lyne, who has created similar tableaux involving a refrigerator in "9 1/2 Weeks" and a kitchen sink in "Fatal Attraction," knows how to make a sex scene look more like a layout for "Metropolitan Home." He's obsessed with the physical details instead of the human emotions. The actors are really just part of the scenery: Moore with her pretty tears, Redford with his champagne smile and Harrelson with his heart on his sleeve.

Oh well, at least no one introduced a vacuum cleaner into the equation.

"Indecent Proposal" is rated R for adult themes, sexuality and partial nudity.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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