Inspired by the strip joints of Silicon Valley - - and the cold, emotionless transactions that occur within their walls - - Wayne Wang's latest is more about money, power and mindgames than sex.
Which isn't to say that sex does not play a part, or that there aren't censor-baiting scenes guaranteed to push boundaries and garner salacious headlines. One stripper, for instance, finds an eye-poppingly original way for slurping a lollipop, while Richard and Flo participate in a naughty tête-a-tête that invites inevitable comparisons to Last Tango In Paris' butt(er)-rub.
But the sex is a means to an end, not the end itself - - if you'll forgive the pun. What gets everyone hard here is the green stuff: Richard has it, Flo needs it, and everything starts from there. What's interesting, though, is that it's Flo who holds the cards - and she increases her power by rationing her charms, limiting her dances to a strict 10pm-2am window. In fact, so subservient is Richard to Flo's lofty position that he finally resorts to brute force to establish his supremacy.
Despite brave turns by two stars who have established reputations for fearlessness (Sarsgaard played a redneck rapist in Boys Don't Cry, Parker dabbled with necrophilia in Kissed), The Center Of The World fails either to shock or move. Partly this is because much of the improvised dialogue hits a resoundingly false note, and partly it's because Wang's methods of achieving `naturalism' - grainy DV, lurching shaky-cam - are far too obvious. Mostly, though, it's because the final 10 minutes are unpleasant and ridiculous, featuring sexual politics as ugly and confused as those in the infamous 1978 `feminist' revenge horror I Spit On Your Grave.
Shame, as this is full of fascinating ideas and potentially compelling situations. It just can't get them up.
Although director Wang opts for jagged edges over formal rigor, The Center Of The World is nevertheless a cold and uninvolving affair. Not a complete flop by any means, but it's not half as stimulating and provocative as it would like to think, either.
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