Blu-ray review: ‘Bad Influence’

Bad Influence

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

 

 

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4 Responses to “Blu-ray review: ‘Bad Influence’”

  1. J Fulton (Lathe Of Heaven) Says:

    Hey Mr. ‘Wordsmith’… Great MOVIE review. Sure would be nice, though, if it actually were a BLU-RAY Review as your title suggests… (in other words, picture quality, audio quality, Xtras, etc…)

    THAT would indeed be a Blu-ray review…

    Cheers!

  2. J Fulton (Lathe Of Heaven) Says:

    I didn’t see my comment posted, so I will repost this with an additional example of what an actual ‘Blu-ray Review’ is…

    What I had mentioned before was that this is indeed a very good MOVIE review, but NOT a Blu-ray review as you have stated in the title.

    Here is an example of a real Blu-ray review of this Shout Factory Blu-ray on Doblu.com:

    VIDEO:

    Shout Factory licenses Bad Influence from MGM for this Blu-ray edition. The 1990 thriller receives an adequate, decent upgrade in 1080P video shown at its intended 1.85 aspect ratio. Likely featuring a film transfer from secondary elements, its clarity and definition aren’t the dazzling improvements we’ve seen from the most recent, best 2K film scans. This is a softer transfer with mildly sharpened grain structure. The 99-minute main feature is uncut and included on a BD-50. It is encoded in AVC at excellent compression parameters, completely replicating the underlying film source.

    Bad Influence’s cinematography is consistent but on the flatter side, favoring less depth and dimensionality. Some possible filtering has been used in the transfer, resulting in ordinary resolution and less fine detail.

    The neutral color palette has average saturation with slightly crushed black levels, reducing just a hint of shadow delineation. Its level of picture quality does seem to represent a newish film scan from softer, secondary elements. The print is in fine condition, showing little positive or negative debris. Contrast is fine but doesn’t pop, an authentic grading decision that respects the movie’s intended appearance.

    All in all, this is an ordinary presentation of a 1990 movie. Bad Influence has never looked this good before on home video but is not a showstopper in terms of other recent catalog efforts.

    AUDIO:

    Bad Influence’s original Dolby stereo mix is heard in an excellent 2.0 DTS-HD MA soundtrack. This is a wide presentation with a spacious stereo mix. Dialogue is smoothly placed in balance with a number of Pop tunes, nicely mastered. This is a clean, intelligible audio experience that features a jazzy score by Trevor Jones. The sound design is heard with clarity and comes off with modern production values.

    Optional English subtitles display in a white font.

    EXTRAS:

    The older MGM DVD edition only had the following trailer on it. Shout Factory has commissioned an interesting, new interview with Bad Influence’s screenwriter, David Keopp.

    THIS is a Blu-ray review…

    Cheers mate!

  3. farsider Says:

    You’re right, J Fulton, this is not a “Blu-ray review,” provided your definition of that is a review of all of the technical details in sound and picture of that format. Thank you for providing your own assessments. To avoid future confusion, I’ll stop using the term “Blu-ray review,” since I am oriented to content (plot, script, acting, direction, editing, photography, production design, etc.), regardless of the delivery format, and will simply call my reviews a “Review.” Thanks again. All the best.
    –Bruce Westbrook

    • Lathe Of Heaven Says:

      Hey Bruce!

      That was a very gracious reply mate! Appreciate that. Sorry to complain, but I see this SO damn much, about 2/3 the sites I go to specifically for a review of the actual Blu-ray as they have entitled it, I find that it isn’t one at all. So, thus the frustration.

      BUT… with that said, I REALLY did enjoy your most excellent movie review and from now on I think I will check to see what your comments are on future reviews!

      Thanks kindly again!

      Lathe Of Heaven

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