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Catherine Zeta-Jones falls in love with Sean Connery

Ty Burr on Hollywood’s on-screen fascination with affairs between young women and much older men

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Catherine Zeta-Jones falls in love with Sean Connery

Coming Soon to a Theater Near You: ”Enslavement,” starring Joanne Woodward as a suave international jewel thief who partners with — and beds — hunky undercover insurance investigator Christian Slater.

Sound preposterous? Sound, at the very least, like box office death? So how come it’ll probably be a decent, mid-size hit when it opens on Friday as ”Entrapment,” starring Sean Connery (born in 1930, as was Woodward) and Catherine Zeta-Jones (1969, same as Slater)? Between this movie and the recent ”True Crime,” which offered the frightening sight of Clint Eastwood getting frisky with Laila Robins, a moviegoer’s gotta ask: How come the old guys get to have all the fun?

Well, in these two cases, because the old guy owns the movie: Connery produced ”Entrapment” and Eastwood directed ”Crime.” But, more to the point, the May-December romance has long been a staple in Hollywood — as long as the May is HER and the December is HIM. Think of Bogart winning Audrey Hepburn away from William Holden in ”Sabrina,” or Fred Astaire wooing schoolgirl Leslie Caron in the borderline-pedophilic ”Daddy Longlegs.”

Now try to remember the few movies that have tried to switch the gender. There’s ”Sunset Boulevard,” with Gloria Swanson romancing Holden — but, oops, she’s a psychotic basket case. There’s Anne Bancroft seducing Dustin Hoffman in ”The Graduate” — but she’s a bitter, self-absorbed vamp. Okay, there’s the wonderful old cult film ”Harold and Maude,” with its teenage boy (Bud Cort) swept off his feet by a feisty octogenarian (Ruth Gordon). I saw that back in 1972 and can still remember the horrified groan that went up in the theater when the shot of the two leads curled in postcoital bliss hit the screen. And where were all the great female stars of the golden age when Bogart and Astaire and Cary Grant were playing footsie with twentysomethings? Doing horror, mostly: Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, god love ’em, revived their careers in ”Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?”

About the only example I can think of in the current pop landscape is the British older woman/younger man drama ”Reckless, the Sequel,” which is playing, not surprisingly, on PBS. Then there was that James Spader/Susan Sarandon flick a few years back, ”White Palace,” but that was more of a May-August thing. If anything, women beyond a certain age — especially women with a viable sex drive — are even more invisible in movies and on TV today than in the past: Our supermodel-driven era won’t tolerate any hint of female aging or imperfection, and Hollywood draws a collective blank when asked to contemplate any woman between the ages of Miss America and Miss Daisy.

Who knows? Maybe this is hardwired into our genes, a relic from a time when grizzled old alpha-apemen got all the cute young Neanderthalettes, and a woman’s appeal ceased after she’d had her last ape-kid. But it’s a shame, for our culture AND our pop culture. I mean, wouldn’t it be a mindblower to see Lauren Bacall pull a move on Matt Damon?