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The only surprising thing about Unfaithful is that director Adrian Lyne (Nine 1/2 Weeks, Fatal Attraction, Lolita) has erred on the side of restraint. Supposedly based on Claude Chabrol’s 1969 film La Femme Infidèle, but with a plot so basic — woman cheats on husband, husband exacts revenge, guilt abounds — that it could qualify as public domain material, the movie is an exercise in the inevitable. It’s the kind of wafer-thin conceit that could either be juiced to the max, horror-thriller style, or played for subtleties and underlying tension, a la In the Bedroom. And from Lyne we expect juice.

Connie (Diane Lane) and Edward (Richard Gere) are an average fortysomething movie couple, which is to say they live in a cloying suburb with their insufferably cute 8-year-old son and have vague, upscale jobs — you know, normal people, ripe for a little chaos. One day, while in the big bad city, Connie has an encounter with a younger man, Paul (Oliver Martinez), a Euro-hunk whose designer stubble fairly screams, “We will fuck and then things will turn out bad for all involved.” Heedless, and with so much pent-up lust that you begin to wonder what Gere’s problem is, Connie leaps into his charmingly seedy web. This is the crime and now we just have to wait for the punishment.

Lyne handles the sex scenes as soft-core sequences of trembling and textures — pretty classy stuff — and the one violent scene as a bravura bit of subjective camera work with lots of gushing blood to signify the fatal rupturing of Connie and Edward’s life. Both Lane and Gere rise to the occasion, playing characters who struggle unhappily with the consequences of their impulses, but it’s this pervading mood of interior disquiet which makes the movie, finally, a little dull.

One appreciates the filmmaker’s attempt to treat the material in a grown-up manner — and the last shot is nearly perfect — but as a psychological study it’s facile and inconsequential. They should have gone for the sleaze.

Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected].

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