The Center of the World

Dot com millionaire Richard (Peter Sarsgaard, "Boy's Don't Cry") thinks the center of the world is his computer while stripper Flo (Molly Parker, "The Five Senses") thinks it's between her legs. These two both go on a journey of self-discovery and self-delusion when Richard hires Flo to spend a weekend in Las Vegas in director Wayne Wang's "The Center of the World."

Laura's Review: C

Director Wang's ("Anywhere But Here") attempt to show man's inability to make a personal connection as he ironically gets increasingly connected via the internet is a topical idea, yet Wang alienates his audience with the shallow characterization Ellen Benjamin Wong's script provides his two leads.

When Richard meets Flo, she gives her career as a rock band drummer but admits that her income comes from stripping. Richard chooses to see her making money, and, beguiled by her professional come-on, soon begs her to accompany him on a three day trip to Las Vegas, offering $10,000. Against her better judgement, but attracted by the cash, Flo insists on rules. She'll be at his beck and call from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. with no kissing on the mouth, no penetration and no talk about feelings. Richard prepares to leave, even as he promises his boss to be present for an important client meeting prior to their IPO kickoff.

Perhaps the ultimate city of illusion, Las Vegas proves a perfect backdrop for this artificial relationship, but things quickly get out of hand as Richard is charmed by Flo's openness and Flo is forced to assess her own part in the play when her friend Jerri (Carla Gugino, "Spy Kids") too aggressively inserts herself between the twosome.

While the sex may be hot (the film is unrated), the spark between Richard and Flo is not. We're given no idea why a rich, handsome nice guy like Richard would need to pay a woman for company. He initially tells Flo that his father recently died and that they were very close, but quickly insists 'It's okay.' It's also inexplicable why he would bring his laptop with him and continue to work on the game designing he's made his fortune with, yet do everything in his power to scuttle an IPO that would cement his career and wealth.

Flo's character is even more problematic. Whenever we glimpse her involved with her music, all she projects is boredom. Her only other known human connection, Jerri, is admittedly the whore Flo resists being labelled as. Flo's arc goes from reminding Richard that 'It's all an act, you know' to telling Jerri 'I think I kinda like him' to playing dead as her ultimate rules are broken. The only time these two characters seem to be enjoying themselves together is when Flo plays Richard's video game.

Digital video cinematography by Mauro Fiore features color drained scenes when outside of Vegas or Flo's strip club, and flat, dingy looking color on the streets of Vegas. Vegas itself is presented in an original way, recalling the artificial world of "Babe: Pig in the City" with its Statues of Liberty and Venetian gondolas. The connecting hotel rooms, where the bulk of the action takes place, however, don't convince as accommodations chosen by a millionaire.

Wang nicely ends his film with a bit of intriguing ambiguity, but it's too little too late - "The Center of the World" can't sustain interest in its own central characters.