The Center of the World

on April 20, 2001 by Cathy Thompson-Georges
   Sex and technology intersect in Sin City in Wayne Wang's new film. The director of "Smoke" and "Blue in the Face" turns from the broad canvas and many characters of those films to an almost claustrophobic portrait of two unlikely bedfellows. Richard (Peter Sarsgaard of "Boys Don't Cry") is a shy and awkward computer genius who spends a few of his dotcom bucks to persuade stripper Florence (Molly Parker of "Wonderland") to join him for a weekend in Las Vegas. She agrees, on the condition that the arrangement remain strictly business--no emotional attachment involved. Inevitably, things don't stay that simple.

   "The Center of the World" benefits from intense, committed performances from both leads: Sarsgaard is intensely appealing as a man, essentially sweet, who is better at interacting with computer games than with people, and Parker shows a virtuoso ability to turn a sex-siren personality on and off at will, revealing a much more interesting woman underneath. An outstanding, sultry soundtrack helps matters along considerably.

   If "The Center of the World" ultimately disappoints in spite of these virtues, it's because Wang's other work, from "Chan Is Missing" to "Smoke," has tended to be quirky and surprising, leaving audiences with plenty to think about after leaving the theatre. All "The Center of the World" has to say, finally, is that money can't buy you love--a message that should surprise no one. Like a strip-tease artist, this film looks great and promises a lot, but doesn't deliver all that much in the end.    Starring Peter Sarsgaard and Molly Parker. Directed by Wayne Wang. Written by Ellen Benjamin Wong. Produced by Peter Newman and Wayne Wang. An Artisan release. Drama. Unrated. Running time: 90 min.

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