A stunning, enrapturing film, a crowning work by one of the American cinema’s most essential artists.
Farce has been defined as the art of creating characters who under no circumstances should be in the same room with one another - and putting them in the same room as soon as possible. There is not yet a definition, however, for a movie like "Key Exchange," which creates characters who should be in the same room with one another and then separates them with dreary and predictable artifice. The movie comes dangerously close to exhibiting an Idiot Plot, defined as a plot that would be over in five minutes if everyone in it were not an idiot.
"Key Exchange" is about two people who have a relationship but should not, two people who are married but should not be and the ways in which they all arrive at a singularly unconvincing happy ending. The movie stars Brooke Adams as a TV producer whose lover (Ben Masters) wants her to be faithful but sees no reason why he should be. Masters, a novelist, has a lawyer friend (Daniel Stern) who has just married a young ballerina.
Adams produces for a show called "Good Morning, New York," which is hosted by Tony Roberts, and one of the slight delights of this movie is observing how little it knows about television. (Roberts is briefed on his guests only seconds before interviewing them and the program is run so casually that almost anyone can drift in and be a guest. At one point, if I have the movie's time scheme correct, "Good Morning, New York," even airs in the evening.)
The plot is somewhat simple. Adams and Masters debate whether they should exchange keys to each other's apartments - the modern form of true commitment. Masters fools around. Stern's ballerina wife has an affair within days after her wedding. Stern, crushed, finds solace with Adams, and since they form the only couple in the movie with true, sweet chemistry, of course the movie does what it can to keep them apart. Meanwhile, the TV host has to decide whether to move to California, a decision that is complicated by visits to Chicago to talk to network officials, who, as we all know, would never be located in Manhattan.
Several of the characters seem to have extreme emotional myopia, especially Masters, who arrives at Adams' apartment one evening to find her on the floor, locked in an embrace with Stern. Masters does not mention this event to them, or indeed even seem to notice it.
The characters also have short memories. Not long after Masters has had a cruel and bitter argument with Adams, she seems glad to see him, as if the fight had not occurred. There also is an extremely unlikely scene in which Masters uses his bicycle to chase the limousine carrying Adams and Roberts to the airport; it's the kind of development that belongs in a Road Runner cartoon.
These trials and tribulations are played out against a backdrop of adult toys, including a lot of bicycles. Masters and Stern are bicycle racers, and spend a lot of time speeding through Central Park in training for the big Manufacturer's Hanover Bank bike race, which almost, but not quite, supplies the climax for the movie.
At first, observing the buildup, I was afraid that the outcome of the movie would hinge on who won the race. Then, as the plot grew more silly, I began to fear that the movie would not end with a race, but would attempt a quasi-profound resolution of everyone's problems. By the end of the movie, I was faced with a curious situation: On the basis of what I knew about the characters, they all could have been in the race and I wouldn't have cared who won.
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