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Friday, December 9, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Trading Places -- `Disclosure' Puts A Different Spin On Harassment

----------------------------------------------------------------- Movie review

XXX "Disclosure," with Michael Douglas, Demi Moore, Donald Sutherland. Directed by Barry Levinson, from a screenplay by Paul Attanasio, based on the novel by Michael Crichton. Cinerama, Crossroads, Everett 9, Factoria, Grand Cinemas Alderwood, Kent, Kirkland Parkplace, Mountlake 9, Oak Tree, Parkway Plaza, Puyallup, SeaTac North. "R" - Restricted; mature subject matter, profanity. -----------------------------------------------------------------

Many felt that Michael Crichton's bestselling novel "Disclosure" promoted misogyny by presenting a case of reverse sexual harassment in a high-tech computer firm. But if it's understood that more than 95 percent of harassment cases involve female victims, it also should be understood that by skewing the issue with a male victim, Crichton is deliberately playing devil's advocate with a contrived and debatable "what-if" scenario.

"Disclosure" has lost some crucial ambiguity in Barry Levinson's still-compelling film version, but everything else about this slick techno-thriller is cleverly geared to push our collective buttons. With a sharp, witty adaptation by "Quiz Show" screenwriter Paul Attanasio, "Disclosure" is a de facto sequel to "Fatal Attraction," boasting a similar combination of populist controversy and Hollywood gloss.

Power, not sex, is the issue at hand when Tom Sanders (Michael Douglas) is called to an after-hours meeting with Meredith Johnson (Demi Moore), a former lover who is now his new boss at DigiCom, an advanced-technology computer firm based in Seattle's Pioneer Square. When the meeting turns into Johnson's attempt at sexual conquest, Sanders resists and hires a media-savvy female lawyer to defend his charge of sexual harassment.

Don't mess with the boss

Johnson retaliates by sabotaging DigiCom's latest innovation - a highly advanced Virtual Reality system - and sticking Sanders with the blame. Not to mention a potentially ruined career and the loss of his wife's trust.

Although Moore is unbearably alluring (and Douglas' resistance qualifies him for sainthood), her character's vengeful motivations are sketchy. And where Crichton's novel left room for doubt, the film colors the gray issue of harassment in vivid black and white. A liar and a cheat, Meredith is distinctly separate from the film's other women, who are depicted as competent, honest professionals worthy of promotion. She's the kind of calculating seductress who used to be played by Barbara Stanwyck, now lifted to new heights by Linda Fiorentino in "The Last Seduction."

Given this clear-cut villainy, the controversy of "Disclosure" is retained but safely converted into the tension of Douglas' dilemma. He's got everything to lose and finds little support from DigiCom's CEO (Donald Sutherland), whose vindictiveness is never fully explained.

Crisply directed

Other aspects of the film won't withstand scrutiny (Dennis Miller is a master of sarcasm, but he's hardly convincing as a computer hacker), but Levinson maintains a sharp focus. He detonates his sexual fireworks within the confines of DigiCom's marvelous offices - a brilliantly cinematic set built on a Los Angeles soundstage - while making economical use of familiar Seattle locations.

Crichton's stories are always ahead of current technology, and the dazzling (if a bit corny) Virtual Reality in "Disclosure" - simulated by the digital wizards at Industrial Light and Magic - presents an exciting yet subtly cautious preview of our very near future. (There's nothing in the film that couldn't already exist, given enough money and computing power.)

For those who would question Crichton's motives, Levinson and Attanasio haven't let men off the hook. While it effectively calls a truce on the sexual battle ground, "Disclosure" warns men to be on their best behavior. When Meredith proudly admits her sexual aggression, you can't help but notice a hint of admiration from the women around her.

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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