Rock stars dip into movies with the same attitude they apply to groupie sex -- good for a quick thrill, not the long haul. Jon Bon Jovi is an exception. He had an engaging bit in Moonlight and Valentino in 1995 and damn near steals the upcoming Ed Burns film, No Looking Back, in a supporting role. Bon Jovi takes center stage in The Leading Man, playing Robin Grange, a cocky American movie star out to prove himself as a serious actor on the London stage. Aussie director John Duigan (Flirting, Sirens), working with a modestly clever script by his sister Virginia, gives Bon Jovi little more than a sketch for a character. Yet Bon Jovi fleshes out the role with rare poise and magnetism.
Most stars from other media want to be loved onscreen and therefore choose sympathetic parts. Robin is a charming prick at times, but he is a prick nonetheless, and that's how Bon Jovi plays him. He lets us see Robin's subtle skill at manipulation. Flattering the playwright Felix Webb (Lambert Wilson) to fatten up his role is just a start for Robin. Seeing that the unhappily married Felix is hot and heavy with the play's leading lady, Hilary Rule (the excellent Thandie Newton), Robin offers to seduce Felix's wife, Elena (Anna Galiena). That way the neglected wife and mother won't be so stricken when Felix leaves her. Robin also comes on to Hilary to cover all the sexual bases. He's a user, and watching him get his comeuppance provides devilish fun. Watching Bon Jovi ease into an acting career is even more of a kick. He's no Oscar contender yet, but he's no joke, either. The kid from New Jersey is now thirty-six and on his way.