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Sympathy for the Devil's Henchman: Mick Jagger muses over the difficulty of pimping a dour Andy Garcia in 'The Man From Elysian Fields.'

Booky Nights

'The Man From Elysian Fields' is a highly remainderable drama

By Richard von Busack

THERE ISN'T AN AUDIENCE alive that wants to see Mick Jagger talking like a Dutch uncle about the importance of meeting that one special lady and settling down. And yet The Man From Elysian Fields features just such heartfelt advice from the noted British monogamist. However, the real star is Andy Garcia, who plays a married man turned gigolo. He plies that trade with a look of such shame and bitterness that you probably wouldn't hire him to change a light bulb, let alone share your blankets. The movie's would-be pinnacle of sophistication takes place when the word "biscotti" becomes an allusion to sex. If someone served you an actual biscotto with such a look of grim irony, you'd ask the manager at Starbucks to reprimand him. Then again, Garcia's client is the rich lady Andrea Allcott, played by Olivia Williams with all the sensuality of Louisa May Alcott. Their trysts are conducted in long shot, under a jumble of designer sheets, lest we be aroused by this tale of prostitution.

Unsuccessful author Byron Tiller (Garcia) is mentored by the man in the Hollywood office down the hall, a Mephistophelean procurer named Luther Fox (Jagger). Jagger has been playing Satan's henchman since before most of his current audience was born. He's refined and desiccated, and uses only words in italics as he describes the running of the successful escort company Elysian Fields (no male-to-male sales: "Call me old-fashioned," Jagger drawls). And he supposes that Tiller is macho enough to do the job.

Alas, Tiller is married to good faithful Dena (Julianna Margulies). Our hero is lured deeper into the "life" when it turns out that the husband of his client is a towering, though diabetically impotent, novelist (James Coburn, warm enough to thaw the freezer-burned clichés of the role). This fact excites Byron's ambition as a writer, especially when it turns out that the literary lion is having trouble with his newest novel.

Like every other tale of prostitution, the film is full of the devil's wages and the devil's dues. Early scenes of Fox savoring the wickedness of man lead to Tiller's double-life guilt and the sight of our Mick staring off into the oceanscape, lovelorn and, oh, so alone. A film that takes someone as smoky as Margulies and turns her into the Hand That Rocks the Cradle is bad enough. Director George Hickenlooper captains his way through the unlikely story like a man weathering heavy seas, so blame must be laid at the script by Philip Jayson Lasker, a writer for Barney Miller and The Golden Girls. The film's failed intentions as adult entertainment are summed up by one most un-Lubitschian line. A male escort tells Byron sorrowfully, "Fucking is the last resort for a man who feels impotent." People who have so little instinct for sex and romance really ought to be making movies about collies.

The Man From Elysian Fields (R; 105 min.), directed by George Hickenlooper, written by Philip Jayson Lasker, photographed by Kramer Morgenthau and starring Andy Garcia, Mick Jagger and Julianna Margulies, opens Friday at the Del Mar in Santa Cruz.

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From the October 2-9, 2002 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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