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Was this an "affair' to remember?

The remake of The Thomas Crown Affair offers some improvements, some disappointments, but the question remains for both versions: Was this story worth all this fuss?

The 1968 version of The Thomas Crown Affair wasn't a very good movie, which is the only reason for a Hollywood remake. Comparing that Steve McQueen star vehicle with the new, barely improved model adds a measure of interest that neither movie deserves.

First, the obvious: McQueen never looked as swell in tailored suits as Pierce Brosnan does playing a ridiculously wealthy jet-setter who masterminds robberies as a hobby. McQueen only looked comfortable in a jacket with a cool turtleneck and gun holster underneath. Brosnan is a walking mannequin that can carry off the GQ look. This is what Agent 007 does between movie assignments to stay in shape.

Then, a viewer notices how director John McTiernan tinkers with the original, turning some memories inside out and displaying unnecessary reverence for others. McTiernan dropped Norman Jewison's irritating split-screen storytelling that crammed a handful of images into a single frame of film. Thankfully, he bends the Oscar-winning song The Windmills of Your Mind into nearly unrecognizable background music without the acid-trip lyrics.

The original film's most memorable sequence _ a chess game and swooning kiss shared by McQueen and Faye Dunaway _ has evolved into a torrid seduction. That segues into the lead actors, or possibly body doubles, naked and grinding on what must be an uncomfortable marble staircase. Ah, progress.

Brosnan's Thomas Crown still flies sleek gliders, and makes expensive golf bets. Most of his pastimes are passe in 1999, but a private jet to a hilltop Caribbean hideaway sure beats a dune buggy ride to a sundeck on a New England beach. The character's conspicuous consumption is more conspicuous than ever.

Yet, Thomas isn't content. He has been softened by new-age sensitivity and regularly visits a psychoanalyst, played by Dunaway in an obligatory casting nod to the past. McQueen's Thomas never depended on anyone else for personal services, not even a chauffeur.

McTiernan's version follows the same general outline as Jewison's, with a few adjustments for inflation and movie familiarity. Thomas doesn't rob banks anymore; he lifts a Monet masterpiece worth $100-million from a museum. Russo plays Catherine Banning, an insurance investigator seeking to recover the stolen painting. She instinctively suspects Thomas, but he's so dashing that she feels compelled to conduct a more intimate investigation. The roles of cat and mouse constantly change in the arbitrary nature of the script.

Some of the twists are minor, a few can be spotted a mile away, and the climactic heist defies all logic. That situation won't be revealed here. But, after the movie ends, ask yourself why that stolen Monet would be in the position it is, considering the chronology of events. It couldn't, unless sneaking past high-tech security systems is much easier than the movie previously insisted.

Brosnan looks as comfortable in this role as McQueen appeared out of place. Just don't ask him to attempt any real emoting. It's hard to tell if his pained expressions in dramatic moments are a reflection of the character's feelings or the inconvenience of having to act. Russo smolders with the best of them, although Catherine's slutty demeanor hardly fits the current impression of the way women succeed. Denis Leary's sardonic humor is always welcome, and he turns Catherine's lovestruck boss into a decent distraction from the pretty people.

In its revisited state, The Thomas Crown Affair is an elegant mosh pit of old conventions and modern hedonism. McTiernan's expertise as an action director (Die Hard, The Hunt for Red October) contrasts with the genteel nature of the story, and you occasionally sense the director choking on all this sophistication. Those windmills in McTiernan's mind are always turning, but the resulting breeze smells stale.

MOVIE REVIEW

The Thomas Crown Affair

Grade: C

Director: John McTiernan

Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Rene Russo, Denis Leary, Ben Gazzara, Faye Dunaway

Screenplay: Leslie Dixon, Kurt Wimmer

Rating: R; sexual situations, nudity, profanity

Running time: 110 min.

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