For all his hustling, thuggery and sports, "cherchez la femme" is James Toback's recurring anthem, never more shamelessly channeled than in this gleefully preposterous melodrama. Indeed, the film is first and foremost a study of Nastassja Kinski, here ripely at the zenith of her magazine-cover fame, every head-toss and lip-bite an event devoured by the camera -- in that sense, the film is Toback's true Nouvelle Vague dig, Kinski's ad-libbed studio pas de deux with chair and mirror to "The Shoop Shoop Song" serving to illustrate the movement's dictum of cinema boiling down to boys taking pictures of girls. (Underlining the links, Henri Decaë and Georges Delerue are in the crew.) Kinski is a young woman with European roots (Mom is Bibi Andersson), bored with Wisconsin but stranded waitressing in New York City, until fashion-mag photographer Ian McShane molds her into a glamour goddess in record time. Since the heroine is introduced (by Toback himself, subbing as her literature professor) as a virtual reincarnation of the the death-angel of redemption in Fiedler's Love and Death in the American Novel, it's only a matter of time for the plot to spring her from aimless medium-shot improvisation to ludicrous espionage-thriller close-ups. So, Rudolf Nureyev is parachuted as a marble-mouthed question mark into the increasingly wacky plot, which bounces over to Paris and a terrorist ring lorded over by Harvey Keitel, though Kinski remains the film's main object of the desire. Continually grabbed by men in the streets when not offering Nureyev her collarbone as violin to his fiddle, her loveliness gives off the glow around which the director's macho-obsessive gaze circles like a moth. "The western world is breaking down," Toback intones near the start, with "art and romantic love" our remaining escapes -- both, needless to say, pursued cloddishly yet unashamedly here. With Pierre Clémenti.
--- Fernando F. Croce