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Saturday, Aug. 12, 2000


The minute you let Jude Law under your skin

How gorgeous is Jude Law? The answer: He's like, out of this world, not to be believed, supercute -- so gorgeous, in fact, that it affects one's speech. In real life, Jude Law is in his late 20s, happily married and the father of two kids, but who cares? A much more interesting bit of information is that when he first went to boarding school, the teachers put him in with the girls because of his wide blue eyes and golden locks and the name which everyone thought was an abbreviation of Judith. Not even Charlize Theron has a story like that.

"The Talented Mr. Ripley" (released in Japan as "Ripley") is a movie designed and custom-tailored to show off the charms of Jude Law, the cinematic equivalent of a beautiful designer jacket worn over the bare torso of a male model, letting the world know who has the looks (him) and who doesn't (everyone else). Watching Jude Law reminds you of all the cruelty, unfairness and -- did I mention unfairness? -- in this world. The tritest of sentiments come roaring into the brain like some profound and newly discovered truth: "Geez, this guy has it all."

"Mr. Ripley" is based on a classic detective thriller by Patricia Highsmith about how a poor boy named Tom Ripley goes about killing a rich boy named Dickie Greenleaf, then takes over his identity. It was originally adapted to the screen in the '60s by Rene Clement and starred the then unknown Alain Delon as Tom. This movie hinted at Tom's homosexuality and the unrequited passion he had for Dickie, but hinting was all it did.

Nearly 40 years later, there is no beating around the bush. "Mr. Ripley" is resurrected as the story of gay love gone haywire, with Jude Law as the most effective, seductive centerpiece such a story could hope to have. Hey Jude, the only regret is that you exit from the movie far too early.

Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) is a piano tuner-cum-waiter, always working on the fringes of N.Y. high society without a hope of actually entering it. Ripley has a talent for ingratiation, though, and this attracts business tycoon Herbert Greenleaf (James Rebhorn). He offers Tom $1,000 to go to Italy and bring back his son Dickie (Law) whose "only talent is spending his allowance."

Tom accepts and ships out, on a first-class, all-expenses-paid trip to lure Dickie back to his parents. He develops a secret longing for Dickie even before he's laid eyes on him and when the pair finally meet at an Italian beach resort, Tom is fatally and irrevocably attracted.

At Dickie's side is the equally classy Marge (Gwyneth Paltrow) who befriends Tom like an older sister. Desperate to be accepted by the couple, Tom lies that he had been at Princeton with Dickie, that he loves jazz (Dickie's special passion), that he had chummed around with Greenleaf Sr. in N.Y.

Dickie is skeptical but consents to befriend Tom, and they spend an idyllic few weeks on yachts, in jazz clubs and at Dickie's house, where Tom is obliged to wash out his only good shirt every night so that he can wear it again in the morning.

Things turn sour in Rome when Dickie's buddy Freddy (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) muscles into their relationship and deftly shows Tom's true colors: needy, scheming and poor. By then, Dickie has tired of Tom's worshipful eyes and tells him so: "You bore me, OK? Boring, boring, boring!"

His towering passion thwarted, Tom murders Dickie, collects his luggage and assumes his identity. His new passport opens doors to worlds he had only glimpsed before: bottomless expense accounts, swanky hotels, his very own Rome apartment and dates with Meredith (Kate Blanchett), another spoiled American living it up in Europe. As long as the people who know him as Tom don't witness him posing as Dickie, he is safe. But, of course, his luck doesn't last and he's forced to strike again.

This is very much a boy's movie, where a lot of boys cluster around Dickie, clamoring for attention, all under the guise of "friendship." Paltrow as Marge has little to do except hover around and pout, occasionally inserting shrewd remarks: "Why is it that when men play, they play at killing each other?"

Even more insulting is that Dickie outshines Marge in every situation despite her wardrobe and affluent air; ditto for Meredith.

Director Anthony Minghella, who displayed such sensitivity for female beauty in "The English Patient," concentrates this time on the sensuality of glowing young men and things like studs, pinky rings, bathing suits and Gucci loafers over bare feet.

And Jude Law wears them all with the nonchalance of one born into a life of privilege, romance and beauty. No wonder he was killed off; he was just too hot to live.

"The Talented Mr. Ripley" is playing at Marunouchi Piccadilly and other theaters.

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