Feb 3, 1999 at 12:00 am

If There’s Something about Mary managed to put a crooked smile on every face, something about Gloria is going to replace that smile with a grimace. Not because director, cast and crew haven’t put any effort into it, but – on the contrary – because the effort is too visible, and the attempt to update a fascinating character like Gena Rowlands’ Gloria (1980) too bold for those involved in this makeover.

Fresh out of a three-year Florida prison term, Gloria (Sharon Stone) violates parole and returns to New York to sort things out with mobster boyfriend Kevin (Jeremy Northam of Mimic and Emma). Desperate and angry, she stumbles – a word which describes perfectly both the character’s actions and the actress’ performance – into a conflict over – what else? – a computer disk. In the process, Gloria becomes the reluctant guardian of a 6-year-old (Jean-Luke Figueroa) who awakens in her maternal instincts she never knew she had.

"Everything about Gloria is big," says Sharon Stone. "Her mouth, her hair, her attitude. She’s always got a plan. But when she gets stuck with this kid, for the first time in her life she doesn’t have a clue what to do. Though Gloria is forced to deal with buried maternal issues, there’s nothing soft about this movie. This is one tough-talking, rough-dealing character."

Stone is very good at looking the part – red lips, high heels, short skirts, great legs – but the toughness she talks about with so much verve translates on the screen into nothing more than learned behavior. As in Diabolique or The Quick and the Dead, her effort is there: Every gesture is calculated; every look into the camera studied carefully.

But from there to a refined performance, there are a few more steps which Stone – even under the direction of Sidney Lumet (Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico, The Verdict) – has not yet taken. Thus, instead of helping Stone’s desperate act, Lumet’s feel for the authentic – shooting big scenes at rush hour in the heart of Manhattan – and Jean-Luke Figueroa’s convincing character end up emphasizing her artificiality.

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