With the way Adrian Lyne's Lolita bounced around studios and spent years in turnaround, those who finally got to watch it were probably surprised by its blandness. The second major adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov's envelope-pushing novel is an often gorgeous-looking meditation, but it ultimately feels empty. The tricky element about Lolita, especially this version, is that it makes perverts of its audience, who may feel obliged to rent it on the sly. This is not just because of the prurient subject matter. Dominique Swain is a revelation as Lolita, and she's enough of a sex object that viewers might forget that she was, indeed, in her mid-teens during filming. There's a moment of seat-squirming discomfort -- which Jeremy Irons' Humbert Humbert experiences as pleasure -- when the camera first takes her in, lying under a sprinkler, a sultry look on her face. Brilliantly, the fantasy is shattered as she breaks into a grin, revealing a telltale set of braces, and as a result, her age. Being so personally confronted with Humbert's peculiar malaise probably did not sit well with critics or audiences. Despite occasional graphic flashes, the film is never quite titillating, for better or worse. Criticisms aside, it's a mature achievement for director Lyne, who shoots with such stately art direction that it often seems a work of chiaroscuro. Irons does his usual strong work, and disintegrates well into that final violent outburst against his successor, played by Frank Langella, who eschews all vanity for the shockingly frank dénouement. Though somewhat flat dramatically, Lolita may one day be revisited for its attractive visuals -- whether they include Swain or not.
by Derek Armstrong review