The Leading Man (1996) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Tuna's thoughts in white:

The Leading Man (1996) was directed by John Duigan, who directed what is arguably the most capturable movie of all time, Sirens. It was written by his wife, and is a backstage story of the London theater. Playwright Felix Webb (Lambert Wilson) has written a new play called The Hit Man, and manages to have his mistress, Thandie Newton, cast in the female lead opposite American actor Robin Grange (Jon Bon Jovi). His wife knows of his affair, and is increasingly vocal about it. Bon Jovi agrees to seduce the wife, as a favor, to give the playwright some breathing room.

Bon Jovi also seduced the girlfriend, just for fun. That is really all there is to the plot, but the film is more fun than it sounds. Everyone, including Bon Jovi, was good in their part, and the behind-the-scenes look at the theater was interesting. The soundtrack had me humming along several times.


Thandie Newton shows one breast at a time - in two different scenes
Maltin and Ebert both award 3 stars. IMDB readers are a little less enthusiastic at 6.5/10, or roughly 2 1/2 stars. I tend to agree with the IMDB readers. The film was well done, but not special enough to watch often. I give it a C.

Scoopy's thoughts: 

Me, too.

Cerebral story, pretty much like a stage play in its own right.

Why does Bon Jovi agree so quickly to seduce the wife? Is there more to it than what we see on the surface? There must be. The two men are engaged in some kind of a chess match with hidden strategies, and there is even a possible murder ala Hitchcock  (substituting a real gun for a stage prop), and still another prize that only Bon Jovi knows about. It appeared from he start that Bon Jovi had some kind of master plan all along, but his dramatic long-term goal seems pretty undramatic when finally revealed, and there isn't any payoff on the weapon switch or any of the erotic details. The entire film is kind of sly and coy, and remarkably lacking in sensuality, which represents an unusual change of direction, or perhaps I should say an unexpected indirection, from a director who has in the past directly celebrated the senses.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen letterboxed, 1.85:1

  • no significant features, very dark transfer

I agree with Tuna's assessment. If you like the theatrical backstage lore and the whole "it's a real firearm, my dear Cuthbert" school of intrigue, you'll enjoy it. It's OK but just OK.

Bon Jovi was praised for his acting. He was competent, but was praised mostly because everybody expected him to suck. I thought he came off too whiny for such a take-charge manipulator, and he managed to produce only adequate results from a much better than adequate part, a juicy role that could have won an Oscar nomination for George Clooney or Hugh Grant or Colin Firth, for example.

The DVD is very dark and over-contrasted. Since Duigan has done so well with lighting in the past (Sirens is magnificent), I assume it's a poor DVD transfer from the print.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: two and a half stars. Ebert 3/4, Maltin 3/4, Apollo 64/100, Austin Chronicle 2.5/5

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 6.0, and it has been declining steadily for some time.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C.

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