The level of interest in Stanley Kubrick's 13th and final feature may not have scaled Phantom Menace heights, but in some ways is even more fevered simply because it involves the names Cruise, Kidman and Kubrick. A film-maker with a touch of genius about him, making his first movie since 1987's Full Metal Jacket, and taking two-and-a-half years out of the lives of the most famous married couple in the world to do it... To say that most of us were anticipating something pretty damn special is putting it mildly. So it is all the more disappointing to report that Kubrick has gone out with a whimper rather than the expected bang.
Pre-release hype and that shrewd trailer featuring a naked Cruise and Kidman canoodling in front of a mirror notwithstanding, this is not the Blue Movie With Stars that Kubrick talked about doing for years. Tom and Nicole baring all in a 160-minute sex romp? It isn't giving too much away to say that you saw it all in the aptly-named teaser. No, the biggest shock in Eyes Wide Shut is the tedious, unerotic banality of the whole enterprise. Although the extended party sequence that opens the film conjures up a neat sense of decadent languour, with husband and wife engaging in separate teasing dalliances, most of Eyes Wide Shut contains the erotic zest of an afternoon spent scrubbing mildew out of your shower.
What Kubrick has left us is an inquisitive meditation on commitment, trust, jealousy and fantasy between a man and a woman. Which is fine. Except for the fact that this musty tale feels exactly like what it is: a small-scale arthouse movie way past its sell-by date, exhumed from a bygone era of Freudian fascination. It might have been haunting and hypnotic 30 years ago, when Kubrick first started obsessing about adapting Arthur Schnitzler's 1926 novella Traumnovelle (although why is anyone's guess); now, it just feels affected.
For one thing, Schnitzler's story, (which has been updated to '90s New York, but otherwise little altered), is a thin premise. For another, the paranoia stirred up in Cruise's mind by his wife's confession seems at best a slight over-reaction. While her husband hogs screen time like it's going out of style, Kidman (who radiates a luminous carnality) is relegated to the sidelines upon revealing her adulterous impulses - - ironically one of the only bits in the film where the hairs on the back of your neck show signs of life.
But Cruise is called away to another patient's residence, and he's off - - courtesy of a chain of coincidence - - on a less-than-fantastic journey through the erotic bazaar of nocturnal New York, encountering distraught housewives, sexual weirdos and hammy actors (step forward Alan Cumming). His odyssey climaxes, literally, in a masked ball-cum-orgy that is treated with all the solemnity of a state funeral, yet borders on the hilarious, thanks to its pompous absurdity (the humping forms on display resemble refugees from a '70s soft-porn movie). Then it's a downhill slide toward the finish line as Bill's obsessive attempts to solve a murder and steer him to a `twist' that lands with a dull thud.
Kubrick couldn't have picked a more boring character to train his lense on than Cruise's emotionally constricted doctor (whose habit of repeating what's just been said to him seems like a bizarre running joke without a punchline); you never doubt for a second that he will resist the temptation to leap into the sexual abyss.
Eyes Wide Shut is unquestionably the uncompromised artistic statement Kubrick intended to release, with every frame meticulously and elegantly crafted, the grainy images and trademark seamless camerawork supplying an opulent veneer. But, sadly, for all the care and attention that has gone into its creation, this is more like a case of the emperor's new clothes than a fitting epitaph for a distinguished movie-making master.
Resembling an ultra-long episode of Tales Of The Unexpected, Kubrick's final feature is a let-down. Any sparks from its stars are doused by the snail-like pace and pretentious posturing. This is a film about sex that isn't sexy; a movie about love with a cold heart.