After stunning critics and moviegoers with his Oscar-winning "Leaving Las Vegas," Mike Figgis has chosen to dive into a shallower end of the pool, although he is clearly still fascinated with people in extreme situations. Rather than the neon seediness of the American desert, "One Night Stand" is set in Manhattan's swankiest precincts; rather than hell-bent for self-destruction, his protagonists are attractive, upscale and relatively untroubled.
As a good-looking snapshot that captures the emotional tone of a romantic turning point, "One Night Stand" bears Figgis' signature fascination with the dark sides of good people. But as a story, it's an unsatisfying exercise that never transcends its essentially ephemeral context (the title says it all).
Then again, "One Night Stand," which started out as a comedy by the screenwriter Joe Eszterhas, may be much deeper than that: It's impossible to say, exactly, because much of the dialogue is unintelligible. Figgis is too much a stickler for sound and scoring for this to be a mistake, but his reasons for intentionally burying some of the film's most pivotal speeches remain obscure.
Still, give him credit for casting: With their pillowy lips and melting eyes, Wesley Snipes and Nastassja Kinski are knockouts as the L.A. commercial director and young woman who meet in a Manhattan hotel lobby. Thanks to the deus ex machina of New York (traffic snarls, Park Avenue parades and an airport mess), they wind up spending an evening, then more, together. Most of "One Night Stand" dwells on the aftermath. Snipes' character returns to L.A. and a superficial, sexually voracious wife (well played by Ming-Na Wen); when he goes back to New York to visit his best friend, who is dying of AIDS, his indiscretion resurfaces in an unexpected way.
"One Night Stand" has a swinging sort of momentum and an instinctual understanding of New York as a place of glamour and difficulty, a tiny island that somehow makes room for an entire universe. But beyond that, the point of "One Night Stand" is elusive. We witness the disintegration of a marriage, the maudlin final days of a young artist (expressively played by Robert Downey Jr.), the what-a-coincidence resolution, but we're never sure why. It's always interesting to follow Figgis' career, and Snipes' hypnotic beauty is a legitimate reason to keep watching, but "One Night Stand" ultimately winds up being a confounding puzzlement. Figgis can experiment with sound design all he wants, but what he expects us to get out of it is a mystery.
'One Night Stand'
Starring Wesley Snipes, Nastassja Kinski, Kyle MacLachlan, Robert Downey Jr.
Directed by Mike Figgis
Rated R (strong sexuality, language, drug use)
Released by New Line Cinema
Sun score: ** 1/2
Pub Date: 11/14/97