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THE GUY'S IN A RUT

For some reason, beautiful wackos just can't keep their hands off Michael Douglas. Glenn Close made him pay dearly for infidelity in Fatal Attraction, then scheming Sharon Stone did that police-station number on him in Basic Instinct. Now it's Demi Moore's turn at bat, and Kirk Douglas's baby boy winds up bruised and bewildered all over again. Good God. The things Hollywood stars have to put up with for a lousy six or seven million bucks a movie.

Meanwhile, no one will mistake Barry Levinson's Disclosure for the last word on sexual politics, predatory corporate culture in the Nineties or even the deviant uses of computer gadgetry. This engaging movie plays footsie with these themes, but Michael Crichton, the pop novelist and self-contained entertainment industry, is not one to dig in very deep: From The Andromeda Strain to Rising Sun, his "big issues" have always felt like merchandise.

This time, the selling point and the arguing point are the same. Disclosure focuses on a case of sexual harassment in which a powerful woman executive is the aggressor, her male underling the victim. This gives director Levinson the excuse to undress Michael and Demi up in her glamorous Seattle office, then show us all manner of gymnastics. The gender switcheroo is also designed to provoke--in a movie-of-the-week kind of way. Sure enough, it does. But there's probably not enough substance here to launch the kind of knock-down, what-is-harassment arguments David Mamet's bloodless, overintellectualized Oleanna apparently does.

Still, in the wake of Jurassic Park, you'd think everyone would be panting after Crichton. But original director Milos Forman quit over script squabbles, and when Annette Bening got pregnant, she was replaced by Moore. Little matter. Levinson (Diner, Tin Men, etc.) proves there's life for him outside of Baltimore, and the actors are at their best despite the facile Crichton material.

As Tom Sanders, a dedicated, rumpled exec at a high-tech computer firm, Douglas creates another middle-class white guy in crisis. No one does it as well. There's something tight in that smooth face, and there's a quiet, desperate edge in his voice that says it all. When Meredith Johnson (Moore), an old flame of Tom's from Silicon Valley, unexpectedly pops up in Seattle as fictional DigiCom's new vice president, her first power move is to seduce poor Tom, then torment him when he objects. Moore convinces us that Meredith believes in the divine rights of queens, as well as in the down-and-dirty ones.

Unlikely as the reversal sounds, Levinson, Crichton and scriptwriter Paul Attanasio (Quiz Show) give lip service to all the usual gender-war issues while loading up the movie but good with dueling lawsuits, high-tech intrigues involving revolutionary CD-ROMs and blocked database accesses. There are villains aplenty: Bearded Donald Sutherland plays DigiCom's devious CEO with oily relish, and Dylan Blackburn is spectacular as the company's razor-sharp chief counsel. Caroline Goodall has a nice turn as Tom's beleaguered wife.

Disclosure derives from bestsellerdom, so it grows impatient with its real subject--sexual harassment--almost as soon as Demi and Michael zip up. Aside from equating seduction with power a couple of times, the movie plays bump-and-run with the issue, then drifts off into Tom Clancyesque technical intrigues about computer-chip glitches, melodramatic subplots and little lawyer profiles, as if to imply that we need bells and whistles to stay awake.

Maybe we do. I fell for this half-trashy entertainment without thinking very much about how it trivializes its point. Loosen up, Disclosure seems to say: Even in war, there's time for low comedy.

 
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