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As a treatise on sexual harassment, Disclosure falls flat. But as entertainment, it's hard to resist

And there's one note in the script so discordant and sleazy that it probably shouldn't have made the final cut. Meredith's monologue during the sexual harassment inquest, in which she recalls being sadistically forced into sex by Tom, is full of the sort of excruciatingly genuine and painful details you rarely hear outside of transcripts from rape trials. The film treats her obviously faked tears as ultimate evidence of her villainy, which leaves a mighty nasty narrative aftertaste. The scene says, Women get men all hot and bothered, see, and they trick you into thinking it's okay to have sex with them, then they change their minds the next day and cry sexual assault. It's a pat on the back to date rapists everywhere.

Disclosure, to its credit, somehow finds the right tone to contain its digressions, contradictions, and missteps. It has a slick, seductive, appealing look that falls between domestic melodrama and modern noir, and it moves with such vigor and precision that you don't realize how preposterous and sometimes offensive it is until you've thought it over later.

Levinson and Attanasio have a strong enough feel for the vagaries of real-world behavior that the film never seems flat or perfunctory. There are real people in this movie, fighting over real issues with real consequences, and even if the way they're presented sometimes feels one-sided and phony, you can't help respecting Disclosure for at least trying to be smart and adult. And even when it degenerates into a morass of Tron-era techno-wonk visuals, and a thriller plot so ludicrously overwrought that it makes the narrative of The Sting seem like haiku, it never stops holding your interest.

But it does beg the question of how much longer Michael Douglas can keep playing these parts without lapsing into inadvertent self-parody. By now, the image of this smallish, surly, shaggy-haired fellow stalking around in a dress shirt and tie and expressing fear of women and minorities is as familiar to moviegoers as John Wayne in a cowboy hat or Max Von Sydow dressed as a man of God. Douglas is a solid leading man who displays the same kind of irascible everyman charm--and some of the actorly versatility--that I've always loved in Spencer Tracy. (When he acts put-upon and bitchy, he's like Tracy crossed with Richard Dreyfuss.) As much as I dislike his politics, I enjoy him as a performer. And I can't help admiring his determination, film after film, to both entertain viewers and get them arguing en route to their cars.

You know exactly what you're getting when you buy a ticket to his films: a tale of a middle-class straight white guy trying to get along in a world that's forever plotting his downfall. In the last decade, his celluloid showdowns with minorities (Romancing the Stone, Jewel of the Nile, Black Rain) and women (Fatal Attraction, War of the Roses, Basic Instinct, Disclosure) have coalesced into a filmic body of work that's surprisingly unified and consistent. And his last movie, the spirit-of-Anglo-America-on-the-rampage epic Falling Down, plays like a manifesto for the emerging conservative majority: it's as muddled, angry, and self-canceling as reactionary politics itself--Taxi Driver for the Rush Limbaugh set. How long, I wonder, until his films are sold via TV spots in a shrink-wrapped boxed set, along with a case of Bud Light, a year's subscription to Playboy, and a souvenir copy of The Way Things Ought to Be?

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