Suspense returns in two summer thrillers

'Thomas Crown Affair' is taut and colorful; 'Sixth Sense' is startling, but falls short

James Bond has been absent from the screen this summer, but other movies have capitalized on his popularity. First the boisterous "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" spoofed his manly persona even more mischievously than the first Powers picture did. Then the gimmicky western "Wild Wild West" arrived, based on a vintage TV series that brought Bond's charismatic style to frontier territory.

Neither of those movies can exactly be called a homage, and if Bond really existed he'd be mad about the irreverent treatment his image has been receiving. He'd smile again, though, when he saw The Thomas Crown Affair, adapted from a 1968 thriller of the same title. Fresh from starring in two actual Bond pictures, Pierce Brosnan gives the title character as much glamour and allure as Agent 007 himself has ever projected (Brosnan talks about "Thomas Crown," page 17). True, he quickly turns out to be the villain, but that's just a detail. He's the one we're supposed to root for, even if we're also rooting for the gorgeous sleuth hot on his trail.

Treading much the same turf as Sean Connery in "Entrapment" a few months ago, Brosnan plays a charming gentleman who just happens to be an incorrigible art thief. His latest acquisition is an insanely valuable Monet painting, which he's heisted from New York's inimitable Metropolitan Museum of Art - cleverly imitated on a Hollywood sound stage, incidentally, since the real museum wouldn't cooperate with a movie that builds entire scenes around bad antitheft systems. It looks as if he's successfully pulled off the job, but then that gorgeous sleuth shows up, figuring out his secrets even as she falls in love with him.

The new "Thomas Crown" is a flighty affair, but it's colorfully acted and tautly directed by John McTiernan, who makes it look almost as handsome as the paintings that decorate the backgrounds. The season isn't likely to bring a better Bondian entertainment.

The Sixth Sense, another new suspense movie, is more ambitious and less successful. Bruce Willis plays a child psychologist whose latest patient, an eight-year-old boy, is haunted by ghostly visions that doctors' theories can't explain away. It's hard to say more without revealing the surprises, but the movie's best and worst features all stem from a highly unusual plot structure that builds to a genuinely startling conclusion.

Some moviegoers may feel the ending justifies the means used to achieve it, while others may reject the picture's leisurely pace and literal-minded depiction of supernatural events. It's unquestionably a mixed bag of a movie, but at least it has higher-than-average aspirations to fall short of.

*'The Thomas Crown Affair,' rated R, contains explicit sex, nudity, and foul language. 'The Sixth Sense,' rated PG-13, contains violence.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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