The Center of the World

Were it not for the controversy surrounding the explicit sexuality of Wayne Wang’s “Center of the World,” the film would merit little attention, turgid and dim as it is.

Some excellent themes are introduced, dealing with sex and loneliness and how they relate (or don’t relate) to love. Young Internet millionaire Richard Longman (Peter Sarsgaard) hires a stripper named Florence (Molly Parker) to go to Las Vegas with him for three days. Her conditions are that she is only his from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. each night, and that there be no intercourse or on-the-mouth kissing between them.

They begin to fall in love with each other, thanks in particular to Florence’s friend Jerri (Carla Gugino), whose tragic situation of drugs and sex brings them together. Florence will have none of that, though, and she takes measures to avoid developing true feelings for her john. Richard, wealthy but naive, has sought sex as a cure for his loneliness, and then foolishly believes sex can become true love. Florence is more wise than that.

The sex scenes are rather explicit, though curiously without much nudity. The film is shot on digital video which gives it a more immediate feel — ironic, considering how lifeless the story is. Only Carla Gugino shows much passion or enthusiasm; Peter Sarsgaard and Molly Parker practically sleepwalk through their roles, dulling what impact this unimportant film might have had otherwise.

C- (1 hr., 30 min.; NC-17, very explicit sexual dialogue, some very graphic sex, frequent nudity, some harsh profanity.)