One Night Stand
1997, R, 102 min. Directed by Mike Figgis. Starring Wesley Snipes, Nastassja Kinski, Kyle MacLachlan, Ming-Na Wen, Robert Downey, Thomas Hayden Church, John Ratzenberger.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Nov. 14, 1997
In this new film from Mike Figgis (Leaving Las Vegas), Wesley Snipes plays Max Carlyle, a successful, thirtysomething director of television commercials in Los Angeles. At first glance, Max appears to have it all: a gorgeous, loving wife (Wen) and kids, snazzy career, and impeccable fashion sense. He's the Nineties American Dream taken to its next logical level, and he's happy, to boot. While in New York City to visit his old friend Charlie (Downey, Jr.), an HIV-positive performance artist, Max meets Karen (Kinski). She's a beautiful, somewhat waif-like woman, who is also married, and the meeting is entirely by chance and very brief (she helps him get an ink stain out of his shirt). But later, after a traffic snarl prevents Max from catching his plane home, he re-encounters Karen -- the two take in a string quartet and pass the time with drinks and quiet, unobtrusive conversation -- and before you can say “bad idea,” it's the next morning. They've spent the night together in one-time-only carnal bliss, following which Max promptly returns to L.A. Once home, his wife suspects nothing (although the family dog has other ideas) and Max is, apparently, ready to let the incident fade from memory. It doesn't, though; with one night of passion (and the specter of Charlie's plummet into full-blown AIDS), Max suddenly begins to re-evaluate his life and the choices he's made and has yet to make. As Charlie bluntly puts it, “Life is not a dress rehearsal, this is the real thing.” Max's meditation on what he wants, what he needs, and what's best for him may seem a tad selfish, but Figgis goes to great lengths to make everyone vastly sympathetic. Despite the fact that Max has cheated on his obviously loving wife (though Wen tends to play the character shrilly at times), he's still a decent guy, struggling with an unebbing attraction to an unobtainable woman and blithely confused as to where to head from there. When he returns to New York for Charlie's final days, fate steps in and Karen coincidentally reappears. That's pushing the limits of an audience's suspension of disbelief, but Figgis isn't concerned with that. The politics of relationships and second chances are his mission here, and he handles the job ably. As the two couples struggle to come to terms with Charlie's passing, things grind inexorably towards Change. Figgis' resolution is abrupt; the final scene comes out of nowhere and smacks of “Now what do we do?” but even that can't temper the deep territory the director has covered in the previous 90 minutes. It's a thoughtful (and thought-provoking) glimpse into modern relationships and, if nothing else, a guaranteed conversation-starter over post-screening cappuccinos.