In the annals of American cinema, has there ever been an actor whose first name so accurately critiqued his performances as Woody Harrelson?
In Doc Hollywood he was Woody the lovestruck hick; in White Men Can't Jump he was Woody the street-hustling ballplayer; Indecent Proposal offers us Woody the architect who agrees to pimp his wife for a night. The common denominator in all of these films is that he's trading on the character of Woody Boyd, the naive doofus audiences have come to know and love in the long-running TV sitcom, Cheers. Each movie role gives him a different day gig and a more active libido, but it's always essentially the same huggable dimwit.
Except that this time out he's even dumber than usual. Harrelson plays David Murphy, a yuppie who overextends himself building his dream house in the go-go days of the mid-Eighties, only to come crashing down to earth in the midst of the recession at the turn of the decade. Suddenly, he and his real estate broker wife Diana, palatably fleshed out by Demi Moore, find themselves in need of a quick $50,000 or it's bye-bye house.
Swallowing his pride, David borrows five grand from his father. Of course that's nowhere near enough to bail the couple out, but not to worry A David's got a plan. In the first of many strokes of genius, the Murphys head to Vegas with the dough, as that town is so famous for handing out thousands of dollars to every rube who asks for it. Their first night is a whopping success, as David enjoys a hot streak at the craps table that balloons the Murphys' bankroll fivefold in just over an hour. Retiring to their room, he and Diana postulate that at this rate, it will only take them two more hours to garner enough capital to rescue their dream. (You can almost hear Woody Boyd doing the math: "Let's see, one hour equals $25,000. We need $25,000 more. That should take, uhh, two more hours!")
The Murphys' big night at the tables is followed by the obligatory lovemaking-on-top-of-a-pile-of-money scene, a staple of low-rent caper movies, Ms. Moore's semi-nude presence being the only redeeming feature of this hackneyed episode. Moore has never been shy about putting her best nipple forward for the sake of her art, and this film is no exception. There's Demi on the potty and Demi sleeping fitfully and Demi flaunting her abundant cleavage as she tries on a low-cut dress. The ballyhooed sex scenes between the Vanity Fair cover girl and the Cheers star are unimaginative and tamer than much daytime TV fare. It's the worst kind of cinematic sex A just explicit enough to earn the film an "R" rating, but more noteworthy for the fame of the participants than for the heat they generate.
Of course, after exhibiting such a superior aptitude for higher math, it comes as no surprise when, instead of taking the $25,000 and getting out of Dodge, the Murphys stick around just long enough to go on a losing jag and give it all back. They lose money, convince themselves their luck is bound to change, and then lose more. It's painful to watch. Cheers fans may be forgiven for reflexively hoping that Sam Malone will show up at the last minute and save the day. But, alas, no such relief is forthcoming. Anyone who's ever had a really bad run at the gaming pits knows the feeling; why would anybody who's been there want to relive it? The filmmakers insist that we wallow in the Murphys' misery, perhaps so that we will feel their desperation when the indecent proposal of the title presents itself.
Here's a suggestion: anyone seriously contemplating blowing seven bucks on the movie should go out and buy a handful of lottery tickets instead. Experience the thrill of losing firsthand without having to suffer through dialogue like, "After all, it wouldn't mean anything. It's just my body. It's not my mind. It's not my heart." Or, "Was it good sex? Was it? Was it good sex? It was, wasn't it?" Or the clincher: "She would have never looked at me the way she looked at him."
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It's too bad the Murphys never saw Lost in America, Albert Brooks's droll foray into the wilds of Glitter Gulch, with the classic scene wherein his wife gambles away the couple's life savings and a shell-shocked Brooks pleads with the casino honchos to give the money back. Indecent Proposal is exactly the kind of lame, overhyped Hollywood product Brooks's picture so finely (and presciently) skewered.
It's even more of a shame Proposal's producers didn't learn anything from Andrew Bergman's Honeymoon in Vegas, last year's antic sleeper with essentially the same plot as Indecent Proposal but none of the pretentious baggage. Honeymoon in Vegas worked precisely because it knew the premise was too stupid to bear up under serious scrutiny, but just catchy enough to serve as the basis for a screwball comedy.
But the production team behind Indecent Proposal is the same outfit who brought us Fatal Attraction. That tale of infidelity and obsession was deemed "the Zeitgeist hit of the decade" by Time magazine, and more relevantly, it grossed over $450 million worldwide. One suspects they viewed Indecent Proposal from the outset as their attempt to recapture lightning in a bottle, to deliver no less than a postmortem on the entire greed decade. Ironically, in their mercenary zeal to turn a sketchy story line into a full-blown Faustian dilemma, they upped the ante beyond their ability to pay off. Indecent Proposal fails in large part because too much is expected of it, just as the Murphys blew their chance to leave Vegas with a tidy profit because of an unrealistic belief in their own infallibility.
It's a pity. Robert Redford is wasted as the dapper gazillionaire high roller with a jones for someone else's missus. The Sundance Kid is looking pretty weathered these days, but he still knows how to wear a suit and flash a toothy smile with the best of them. It's a talent he's been refining since before The Great Gatsby. At this stage of his career, Redford can play a rich WASP with a dynamite wardrobe in his sleep, and that's about all this Proposal asks of him.