The clunky computers. The overwrought synth-rock. The shoulder pads and big hair. The fiercely photogenic Brat Pack.
Gotta love the ’80s, which Bad Influence represents, though the indie film was released in early 1990.
As a suspense-thriller, the film is darkly entertaining and not without humor — starting with its absurdly simplistic and understated title.
Bad Influence? That’s like calling Saving Private Ryan “Unpleasantness at the Beach.”
Making its Blu-ray debut May 24, Bad Influence top-bills Rob Lowe as Alex, a strange stranger who insinuates himself into the life of bookish, meek and up-tight L.A. financial whiz Michael (James Spader). Alex does this as sort of a Robin Hood for hell-raising, giving Michael’s life jolts via reckless good times.
The sudden friends soon become enemies, as sociopath Lowe’s cruelly twisted intentions become apparent.
You don’t wreck a guy’s engagement to an overly controlling woman by surprisingly showing video of him having sex with another chick at the big anniversary party of his henpecking fiancee’s parents. You just don’t — unless you are a Troublemaker with a capital T, right here in River City.
The narrative has many more galvanizing twists — often sexual (think Spader’s own sex, lies and videotape), but more often violent. But despite shots looking like a Venetian blinds catalog, I wouldn’t call it film noir, a stylishness the film doesn’t earn. It’s too reliant on sensationalism for that.
But it’s still a fun, warped ride, and the leads are superbly cast, along with fine supporting players such as John de Lancie (Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Q) as Spader’s boss and a young Marcia Cross (Desperate Housewives) as his cheerfully balls-busting fiancee.
The film becomes even more intriguing via a new half-hour Blu-ray bonus feature, best saved for afterward.
Under the Influence, a new interview with screenwriter David Koepp, has the writer reveal — among general lessons in screenwriting — that Lowe originally wanted to play the part of the yuppie financial guy. But Koepp, for whom this was his second produced screenplay (after Apartment Zero), persuaded him to go against type as the villainous rogue instead, and it worked.
It also ensured Lowe would have a scene flashing his backside. As the song says, “That’s entertainment.”
Besides, Spader is ideal as the hesitant, good-intentioned, easily misled innocent whose life is upended. It’s a part he relished, as I recall from an interview we did back when Bad Influence was released.
Koepp went on to script Death Becomes Her (which I loved) and then many studio tentpole moneymakers such as Jurassic Park, Mission: Impossible, The Lost World, 2002’s Spider-Man and (ouch) Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. He’s also working on the script for Indy 5. (Ouch in advance.)
But Koepp is a pro — and generous. He credits Bad Influence director Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential) with helping him hone their film’s script, then reveals pages of an alternate ending, superimposed on the screen.
Maybe it’s just me, since I’m a wordsmith too, but this is a fascinating look into the lonely but vital job of writing movies. With clips from the film and pages from the script interspersed, Under the Influence smartly caps the Blu-ray after you’ve watched the film, whose two-minute trailer also is included.
So sit back, fire up your replacement for that old VCR and cue up these low doings of LA’s dark underbelly of the late 1980s, when it was shot.
By Boy George, you’ll be glad you did.
— Bruce Westbrook