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The Leading Man review

Apart from a few recent exceptions - Madonna in Evita, Tupac Shakur in Gridlock'd - pop people and films usually make for bad bedfellows (just think of Sting in Dune or any Prince movie). But now it's the turn of US rock stud Jon Bon Jovi, who follows his `96 debut in chick flick Moonlight And Valentino with a starring part in this comic drama set in London's theatreland.

Bon Jovi plays Robin Grange, an actor who's lustful eye settles upon his beautiful co-star Hilary Rule (Thandie Newton). But he's unaware that she and the play's scribe Felix Webb (Lambert Wilson) are already heavily involved in sessions of backstage fluid-swapping. As Webb's wife becomes more suspicious, Jovi's dodgy thespian presents the cuckolding playwright with an outlandish plan: he'll distract his wife by seducing her, thereby freeing Webb up to pursue his relationship with Rule. Initially outraged, Webb quickly comes round to the idea - but then it all falls apart...

This intriguing premise, set up by the Aussie coupling of director John Duigan and his screenwriting sister Virginia and yoked to a highly talented cast, are good enough reasons why this film should be anything but a letdown. But, as with Bon Jovi's flirtatious part, the script promises more than it delivers. Once Webb's wife is seduced, events follow their course in a disappointingly predictable manner to the credibility-stretching denouement during the play's opening night.

Director Duigan proved he was more than capable of handling the theme of adolescent love with the excellent Flirting, which launched the careers of Newton and Nicole Kidman (who also has a small cameo here). But with The Leading Man he is less sure-footed: there's the suggestion that Bon Jovi's part may be more sinister than he appears (ominously, his briefcase contains a loaded gun), but Duigan fails to explore this satisfactorily. For while The Leading Man may be quick-paced and entertaining, it's too bland and could have been improved enormously with a few twists and turns. By the end, all we have to admire are the clutch of decent turns on offer, notably from Galiena and Newton, which add colour to the wan screenplay.

It brings us to back Mr Bon Jovi's turn, for although advising him not to give up the day job would be unfair, he has none of the star quality to carry the film on his broad shoulders and, unsurprisingly, finds himself outclassed by his support.

Let down slightly by a contrived plot, this twistless, yet humourous drama is still eminently watchable. Jon Bon Jovi turns in a confident screen performance that sadly pales in comparison with the rest of the cast.

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