The Center of the World

Director Wayne Wang and his three interesting cowriters – husband-and-wife novelists Paul Auster and Siri Hustvedt and artist Miranda July – try to concoct a Last Tango in Paris for the Internet age, inserting a dark spin on Pretty Woman in the process. Richard (Peter Sarsgaard) is a lonely young computer whiz whose company has made him very rich. Florence (Molly Parker) is a stripper to whom Richard makes a bold proposition: he will pay her $10,000 if she spends three days in Las Vegas with him. Florence accepts, but with certain rules: no penetration, no kissing on the mouth, no talk about feelings, and she "works" only from 10pm to 2am. Of course, we all know that rules are made to be broken.

It's hard to write a serious review of this film, because the film wants to be taken so very seriously – to the point of absurdity. All I can say is that, by the end of its 88 minutes, The Center of the World shows us nothing about the characters that we couldn't discern within its first 10: Richard's expectations about sex and intimacy are adolescent at best, and Florence knows deep down that a stripper is essentially a prostitute, because both exchange sexual favors for cash. Wow, what revelations.

Does this film tell us anything about sex today? Not really. Nothing mature, anyway: the script alternates between leering and scolding. And although the film flaunts its bold "Unrated" status, Wang's camera is awfully shy about showing his stars' private parts (odd, considering that Parker already bared all in the dreadful Canadian film Kissed). There's a creepy "sex is bad" aftertaste to this film, which I certainly hope wasn't its point.

Final notes: the film's grainy shot-on-video look makes it a contender for the Ugliest Movie of 2001; Sarsgaard, in a complete 180 from his terrifying redneck in Boys Don't Cry, adds much-needed humor to the proceedings, and fares far better than the unconvincing Parker; and Wang, despite – or because of – his prolific output, continues to show no distinctive directorial style. All told, The Center of the World is a complete misfire.