Monday, October 19, 2009
The only reason I'm bothering to write about the latest, and worst, Bret Easton Ellis adaptation, The Informers, is because I've pledged to review every film released in 2009 that I see, and considering how I've been lagging lately in getting to the cinema, I felt extra pressure to document my experience. Whatever I have to say about The Informers is likely redundant in the face of overwhelmingly negative response when it stumbled through its extremely limited release; really, the only question is how Rotten Tomatoes lists 14% of the reviews, or even 8% when you consider only the most noteworthy print and online critics, as positive write-ups.
Ellis' stock and trade of course is the soulless, well-dressed wave of yuppie trash who grew up on a diet of wealth and drugs in the '80s and wound up ruining just about everything when they finally severed the umbilical and flew into the business world. The Informers is an adaptation of his 1994 collection of short stories already outdated in their depiction of synth-pop squalor; now, this film seems almost a period piece, a trek through the vile waste of Reaganomics theoretically timed to capitalize on the system breakdown it ultimately caused. In execution, however, Ellis' winding vignettes, suited for an Altman-esque exploration of Los Angeles' seedy late '80s underground of disaffected super-rich (poor things), is an interminably plodding drudge through episodic banality.
The various characters of The Informers all run in the same social circle: following the death of a young lad in a car accident, Graham (Jon Foster) attends the funeral with his girlfriend Christie (Amber Heard) and their buddies, including Graham's best pal Martin (Austin Nichols). No one seems to care about Bruce's death, except for the one kid whom Bruce hated (though poor Raymond didn't know it). No, it's Ellis' world, which means all the kids are on zonked out on Quaaludes and their own sense of smugness.
Quickly, the story moves beyond the slightest hint of plausibility, not so much a problem in its literary format, in which actual vampires roamed about the city, but fatal here because the writing turns to such cheap and exploitative measures to grab us. Christie sleeps around with pretty much all of Graham's friends, but he's well aware of it. He loves her, though, but when he confronts Christie about sleeping with Martin, she fires back that he does too. Later, a TV plays a news clip about a mysterious new virus that's proving incurable, and almost immediately Christie complains of illness and starts sporting lesions.
It only gets worse as we branch out into the other clusters of characters. Billy Bob Thornton plays Graham's father, a media mogul long separated from his wife. Thornton looks too thin and acts with the same ennui as the kids, even though the character is trapped between needing to maintain his relationship with his wife (Kim Basinger) for social reasons and pursuing a newscaster (Winona Ryder) whom he at least says he loves passionately; who could possibly tell amidst all this too-stoic acting? If the teenagers all act like jaded, adult junkies, I suppose it's up to Thornton to act like a child, but it just doesn't work when he tries to balance the flat and lifeless readings he and everyone else seems to interpret as an interesting expression of disillusionment with pure melodrama.
I shouldn't rag on Thornton too hard, though, as no one else puts in a decent performance in this thing. Brad Renfro, in his final role -- I believe the phrase here is "adding insult to injury" -- plays a wannabe actor and hotel doorman who finds himself put-upon by his uncle Pete (Mickey Rourke, obviously in his pre-Wrestler "paycheck" mode), a lowlife who kidnaps a kid and forces his nephew to house them. Rourke sleepwalks through the movie, though his innate charisma is the only positive aspect of the film, and there's a certain tragedy that he's without question the only reason this film, made in 2007 and long-delayed, got a release can be traced to The Wrestler's success.
At times, seemingly by pure chance, The Informers and its director Gregor Jordan stumble upon a mood of moral and spiritual emptiness that feels genuine, but it is quickly buried under yet another story that goes nowhere or ruined when someone speaks. Jordan's visual style seeks to blend the sleek look of an '80s music video with the dank and gritty vision of David Fincher (who of course directed Fight Club, an adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk, who basically took Ellis' style and actually put it toward a point, at least until the turn of the decade), but it ends up diluting everything under sick fluorescence that only emphasizes the aimlessness of the script: an addled rock star moves through groupies without regard to age or gender, Graham's mom sleeps with his friend, a kid goes to Hawaii with the dad he hates, and none it ever resolves in a satisfactory way, if at all. To distract from all of this, Amber Heard spends most of the film naked, which is well and good, but it's a sad day when even breasts can't coax any extra attention.