What’s a girl to do if offered a million bucks for a one-night stand? Director Adrian Lyne gives the moral question a slick once-over that Geraldo would envy. Indecent Proposal should be another date-night hit in the trash tradition of Lyne’s Fatal Attraction, Flashdance and 9 1/2 Weeks. This time Lyne is even pretending there’s a heart beneath the glitz. The film comes on like Honeymoon in Vegas with a bad case of the sniffles. But a closer look reveals that what the dudes at the mall may peg as a chick movie is really the work of a feminist-baiting rooster.
Take an early scene between Diana Murphy (Demi Moore), a real-estate agent, and her husband, David (Woody Harrelson), an architect. It’s art versus commerce: He designs houses, she sells them (a fine distinction). David is a good-natured slob who puts his shoes on the table. Diana isn’t. When she sees the shoes, she comes at him with a kitchen knife, fire in her eyes. Shades of Glenn Close’s she-devil in Fatal Attraction. Nothing gets that violent, but Lyne is cuing us to see Diana as irrational.
The recession may cost the Murphys the property on which David is building their dream house. He wants to go to Vegas and parlay their last $5000 into a big score. At first, luck is with him. In their hotel room, he throws $25,000 on the water bed, and Diana rolls around on the winnings like a fuck bunny in one of those glossy commercials the British director cut his teeth on. The scene is pure Lyne: flesh, sweat, thrusting and all those bills rubbing erogenous zones. It’s a new genre: tits and cash. Moore and Harrelson enter gleefully into the sendup of yup greed. But she gets the key line: “I’d love you even without the money.”
Enter more temptation in the form of billionaire and reputed “poonhound” John Gage, played with sexy charm and watchful wit by Robert Redford (the Trump of the Donald’s dreams). Gage falls hard when he sees Diana stealing candy and eyeing an expensive dress in a hotel shop. He wants to be Richard Gere in Pretty Woman and buy the dress for her. But Diana can’t be bought. Not yet.
Things change when David loses everything and Gage asks Diana to blow on his dice for luck. After he wins, Gage makes David the indecent proposal: “Suppose I offer you a million dollars for one night with your wife?” David and Diana are indignant. But that night Diana — like Eve with the apple — begins to reconsider: “It’s just my body. It’s not my mind. It’s not my heart.”
By morning their lawyer (Oliver Platt) is negotiating to get them paid even if Gage can’t get it up or dies in the act. But just as Diana is being swept away to Gage’s yacht, David’s conscience kicks in. Diana’s conscience isn’t heard from. Later, David pushes her to admit she enjoyed her illicit night. They split up — David to pine and Diana to take up the good life with Gage.
Lyne’s dim view of Diana differs from the 1989 book on which the film is based. Jack Engelhard’s novel of the same name takes a dim view of everyone. The husband is a Jewish speechwriter working with former Nazis, and the moneybags is an oil-rich Arab with a sadistic streak. But Lyne and screenwriter Amy Holden Jones (the director of, yikes, Slumber Party Massacre) let the men off the hook. Redford delivers a girl-that-got-away speech, stolen from Citizen Kane, that establishes Gage as a romantic paragon. And Harrelson’s Cheers appeal makes David seem positively beatific when he takes a low-paying job teaching architecture and urges students to “aspire.”
As sexist propaganda, the film is shameless. The men make the noble gestures. David and Gage get to be good; Diana gets to be good in bed. Moore’s vacuity doesn’t help — she’s a blank page for Lyne to write on. The message seems to be “You never know with these bitches.” Don’t buy the tacked-on happy ending — Indecent Proposal is a bonbon spiked with malice.