Hook, Lyne And Stinker

You're a pretty Los Angeles real-estate agent (who looks like Demi Moore) blissfully married to an up-and-coming architect (who looks like Woody Harrelson). You have a picture-perfect life until the recession hits. Now the money's gone, the debts are piling up and you find yourself in Vegas (not like you, but what the heck) down to your last desperate dime when suddenly a glamorous billionaire (who looks exactly like Robert Redford) offers you a million dollars to spend one night with him, no strings attached. What's a newly poor girl to do?

That's the hook, farfetched but catchy, of Adrian Lyne's Indecent Proposal. Granted, it's the same hook as "Honeymoon in Vegas," but you can bet the serious fellow who brought you "Flashdance," "Fatal Attraction" and "9 1/2 Weeks" isn't going to stock his movie with flying Elvises. Too bad: this solemn clunker could have used something that flew- wit, Wallendas, woodpeckers or maybe a decent plot. To be fair, there is a helicopter that whisks Moore off to Redford's yacht for her million-dollar night. But all we get to see of this is a kiss, then a cut to the following morning as Demi returns to her husband, who has been transformed overnight into a jealous, surly toad. Can their marriage survive this devil's bargain?

At this point you might expect the story to get interesting. It doesn't. The marriage falls apart, Demi takes up with the ardent billionaire (the nature of his obsession is inexplicable, and nothing about Moore's performance conveys irresistibility) and we wait through an eternity of digressions for Woody to rediscover his ideals and win her back, which he does by bidding a million dollars on a hippopotamus. Don't ask.

Director Lyne frantically flexes his technique, turning a mundane household quarrel over the laundry into a food-throwing donnybrook, whipping up MTV-style sex scenes utterly devoid of passion. But not once in the whole silly exercise does he approximate a genuine emotion. Unable to dramatize marital love, he sells it, as if he were pitching perfume. Having nothing credible to play, Moore and Harrelson strike poses of love and anguish, and try not to look embarrassed. Neither radiates much star wattage. Redford does his suave, twinklyeyed charm act as only he can. He's perfect, and perfectly unreal.

For connoisseurs of daffily gratuitous movie moments, however, "Indecent Proposal" does offer some gems. My favorite is when Demi, our narrator, abruptly announces that she's taken a job "teaching citizenship just to keep myself busy." This allows Lyne to stage a "cute" schoolroom courtship scene in which the nattily attired Redford woos the dressed-to-the-nines teacher from the back of the class while the appreciative ethnic types ooh and aah at the glamorous white lovers. Lame as Amy Holden Jones's screenplay is, you can bet this scene was written at studio gunpoint. (Presumably Demi's class flunks, for she is never again seen at work.) Then there's that hippo-auction scene, but never mind ... If you're not napping by the end, you may be forced to concede that "Indecent Proposal" didn't need flying Elvises after all. Its mirth is all its own.