- Rated R
- Buy the Blu-ray
Reviewed by Jeff Giles
or all the things that are wrong with “Indecent Proposal” – and there are so very, very many – you’ve got to give it credit for at least having the common courtesy to let you know, right up front, that it’s going to be a terrible movie. Before the first few scenes are over, “Proposal” gives us several minutes of robotic narration from Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson (who, to be fair, are doing as well as can be expected with Amy Holden Jones’ embarrassment of a screenplay), then piles on a flashback sequence that puts Moore and Harrelson in bad wigs and asks us to believe they’re teenagers. After that, there really aren’t many places “Proposal” can go, and none of them are worth following it to – yet it still earned more than $265 million in worldwide grosses. There’s a nearly infinite list of films that should have arrived on Blu-ray before this one, but if nothing else, this new reissue allows us to watch the prettiest possible version of the movie and ask ourselves why it was so popular.
There are a number of answers to that question, actually, and none of them have much to do with “Indecent Proposal.” For starters, most people didn’t have access to the Internet yet, and getting access to porn still meant paying exorbitant prices, so the idea of paying six bucks to watch Demi Moore (or Sharon Stone, or Kim Basinger) writhe around in her birthday suit was much more appealing; for another thing, director Adrian Lyne was fresh off “Fatal Attraction” and “Jacob’s Ladder,” in which he proved he could use his hyper-stylized aesthetic for more than just high-gloss softcore.
“Indecent Proposal” wants to be as smart – or at least as interesting – as either of those films (it really does). The Jack Engelhard novel it was adapted from actually asks some pointed sociopolitical questions, imagining what might happen if a wealthy Arab businessman offered a middle-class Jewish couple $1 million for the privilege of spending the night with the wife. Unfortunately, all that subtext is thrown out the window here, replaced with a storyline that can only make you wonder what might happen if a pair of phenomenally stupid, desperate people allowed themselves to be manipulated by a bored, lonely (and extremely photogenic, natch) billionaire.
Of course, neither Jones nor Lyne think their protagonists are stupid; in fact, they waste yards of film trying to make us believe that Moore and Harrelson have a love for the ages. They might be poor, but they’re passionate – passionate enough to get married right out of high school (there go those flashbacks again), and passionate enough to go from struggling with a butter knife during a fight over laundry, to humping on the kitchen floor while Woody’s boxers smolder on the stove and Seal moans in the background. They’re also terribly unfortunate, as they tell us in their never-ending series of voiceovers, and through no fault of their own (they swear) they end up unemployed and $50,000 in the hole.
Faced with the loss of everything they own, they do the only sensible thing they can think of: head to Vegas and hit a casino, where they manage to win $25,000 in a night – and then go back the next morning and piss it all away on roulette (roulette!). And that’s where Robert Redford swoops in: his character has been sniffing around Moore since seeing her wriggle her enormous fake breasts into a designer dress at a casino shop the night before, and, well, you know the rest – he offers the famous million-dollar wager, things get a little out of hand, and before you know it, Harrelson is strolling into an auction and telling Billy Connolly that he’ll bid a million bucks for a hippo.
In between, there’s lots of Lyne’s trademark flash – Moore hadn’t been in this many deliberately artsy shots since “St. Elmo’s Fire” – and tons of thuddingly obvious signals that go from foreshadowing all the way to five-or-sixshadowing. Really, what are we supposed to think when Redford catches Moore trying on the dress, offers to buy it for her, and she snaps, “The dress is for sale, but I’m not”? Or when Lyne hits us with a series of brutally lame slo-mo shots? Or, for God’s sake, the lamest “sleepless night” montage in the history of modern film? It’s the kind of movie that isn’t content unless it smacks you over the head with every plot point. When you see Moore sitting on a hotel bed, surrounded by a pile of cash, you know she and Harrelson are going to have sex on it – and then they do, with Sade moaning in the background.
Having turned every character into either an asshole or a moron, Jones has no choice but to overload the screenplay with absurd coincidences – like the scene where Moore storms off looking for Redford and just happens to find him at a local restaurant, or the dunderheaded final sequence, the details of which won’t be revealed here but is, suffice it to say, physically painful to watch. Surrounded by all this hooey, Moore and Harrelson are, perhaps unsurprisingly, inert; though they both show pleasing signs of life on their own – particularly Harrelson, who delivers a monologue that would have provided a wonderful cornerstone for a movie that didn’t completely suck – together, they have zero chemistry. Redford, of course, outclasses everyone; he perfectly captures the suave, slightly bashful air of a fabulously wealthy man who’s slumming on a lark, probably because that’s exactly what he was doing in real life.
It isn’t giving anything away to say that, in the end, everything comes together under the sort of quickly tied ribbon that hack screenwriters love to whip out in the third act. It’s here, actually, that “Indecent Proposal” is at its most honest: When Redford’s character opts for a childishly transparent act of subterfuge in lieu of an adult conversation, and Moore’s character smiles and thanks him for it, you get a chillingly clear picture of the relationship that Jones, Lyne and everyone else involved in this movie wanted to have with moviegoers. More than 15 years later, it’s still depressing how willingly we complied.
Single-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
As you might imagine, “Indecent Proposal” isn’t exactly the type of movie you’re going to pop in the Blu-ray player to show off your 1080p widescreen and surround sound speakers. Though the source material is young enough to respond well to the HD transfer, and the picture is every bit as warm and rich with detail as you’d hope, there’s nothing about it that screams “hi-def,” with the possible exception of the few panoramic cityscape shots. Similarly, the audio benefits from the jump to 5.1 Dolby TrueHD, but for a movie this dialogue-heavy, you aren’t going to notice much of a difference unless you’re looking for it. And don’t go looking for extras: the Blu-ray comes with the same Adrian Lyne commentary track that was included with the DVD. It’s easy to understand why Paramount is trying to give consumers a wide variety of catalog Blu-ray titles to choose from, but this is one reissue that lives up to the movie’s title – and not in a good way.