'Unfaithful' is a surprisingly subdued tale of infidelity

Unfaithful' is the latest heavy breathing exercise from Adrian Lyne, who has let the designer perspiration flow in such cautionary passion pageants as 'Fatal Attraction,' 'Indecent Proposal' and '9 1/2 Weeks.'

Most recently, he managed to take on an adaptation of 'Lolita' and emerge without embarrassing himself or us. This may account for the somewhat more subdued tone of his return to more familiar territory.

Not as lurid and hysterical as 'Fatal,' as deadly dull as 'Indecent' or as goofy as 'Weeks,' Lyne's latest is relatively restrained, providing what could be a much belated star-making vehicle for Diane Lane.

Since her appearance at age 13 in the 1979 comedy 'A Little Romance,' in which she earned the praise of co-star Laurence Olivier (he called her a new Grace Kelly), Lane has seemed just on the brink of stardom.

The pattern continued with two Francis Ford Coppola adaptations of two S.E. Hinton novels, 'The Outsiders' and 'Rumble Fish,' in which her roles were not substantial enough to overcome the films' lack of box office success.

A flashy role as a rock star in Walter Hill's punchy 'Streets of Fire' didn't do the job, nor did two more films for Coppola, 'The Cotton Club' and the hideous 'Jack.' She got an Emmy nomination for 'Lonesome Dove' on TV, but that doesn't make you a movie star.

The ironic thing is now that she has a solid starring role in a film with box office potential, she may be too old for the stardom her performance should bestow. After all, she's in her mid-30s now, which in today's movie market means grandmother material.

In 'Unfaithful,' Lane stars as a suburban New York wife (to her 'Cotton Club' co-star Richard Gere) and mother (to cute little nipper Erik Per Sullivan). On a blustery afternoon in the SoHo district, she is trying to manage some packages against the wind when she is literally blown into hunky French book dealer Olivier Martinez.

Monsieur le Hunk offers her a bandage for her scraped knee and a book of romantic poetry for her inflamed passion, and the next time they collide the wind has nothing to do with it.

Husband Gere, who runs a security company, begins feeling insecure with Lane's odd behavior and the suspicious remark of an employee who spotted the lovers during an unwise venture outside the confines of Martinez's apartment. Gere hires a detective, and the story takes a turn Ñ though not in the direction that fans of 'Fatal Attraction' might hope for.

The film is an adaptation of French director Claude Chabrol's 'La Femme Infidele' and is co-written by Alvin Sargent. It means to be a serious and thoughtful consideration of the subject, and it's handsomely shot with an emphasis on monochromatic tones.

And Lane puts the adult in adultery with an often touching performance, her beauty now enhanced with an experience that flies in the face of such current superficial jiggle queens as Cameron Diaz. She gives the film a weight it would certainly not have otherwise. And if the subdued treatment and ambiguous ending limit its box office appeal, we can hope that it will still earn her a few new faithful fans.

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