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‘The Object of Beauty’ (R)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 19, 1991

"The Object of Beauty" has an appealing premise: a day of reckoning for yuppies. Well, two of them anyway. After living it up at a posh London hotel, jet-setters John Malkovich and Andie MacDowell realize an overseas business catastrophe has ruined their credit base. For the first time in their lives, it's time to pay the piper. In cash.

Pride forbids Malkovich and MacDowell from admitting they're penniless. British reserve prevents the hotel management from asking for payment. The Americans quietly tear out their hair in a plush purgatory.

British director Michael Lindsay-Hogg turns this off-kilter comedy of manners into a convoluted farce. Desperate to pay the tab, the couple has decided to sell MacDowell's precious Henry Moore sculpture when someone steals the little bronze from their room. Manager Joss Ackland conducts an investigation, enlisting assistant Bill Paterson. The search widens, involving MacDowell's girlfriend Lolita Davidovich, her ex-husband Peter Riegert, deaf maid Rudi Davis and a host of others. It also involves a huge chunk of the movie.

This wouldn't be so bad if things sped along. But Lindsay-Hogg wants to drag his main characters through the redemption mill. It's clear that Malkovich and MacDowell will discover life beyond the Gold Card. It's also clear it will take time.

"Would you call it greed?" MacDowell asks her boyfriend, late in the movie.

"Would I call what greed?" says Malkovich.

"What's been coming between us," she replies.

Andie, you're on a roll.

It's really no pain to sit through "Object." Even at its most drawn out, the movie has its comic moments. Malkovich makes a perfect, plastic-souled being. Informed of his rejected AmEx in front of fellow diners, he tries to save face with flimsy, amusing dignity. At another point, he hears the source of his financial problems: a Sierra Leone dockworkers' strike, which has stalled a cocoa shipment he's invested in. The strikers, he's told, are also threatening to dump the stuff into the sea.

"Well, you can dredge up cocoa, can't you?" insists Malkovich into the phone. "You can find that guy that found the Titanic."

"Object" is also sprinkled with nice dashes of British wit. Ackland exudes the perfect mixture of English politeness and secret enmity. "Where was it kept?" Paterson asks Ackland, referring to the missing bronze.

"Apparently on a side table like a dish of peanuts," he replies with empirical disdain.

More trans-Atlantic cultural collisions like this would have been nice. But in this movie, everyone's too busy looking for a silly little statue.

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