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Bad Company
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by Jack Sommersby

"Looks Great, Less Filling"
2 stars

Dumped in theaters in January, a popular month for studious getting rid of what they perceive as certain box-office bombs, the movie's generic title is the least of its problems.

I can’t really recommend the svelte Bad Company even though I was at times fascinated by it even when I could practically see the chalk marks it wasn’t hitting. It’s a botch, all right, but not a disreputable one -- a decent deal of talent has gone into it, and if the indifferent execution ultimately undermines what’s been intended to be a hot and sultry thriller, you likely won’t be bored. The movie is set in Seattle and stars Laurence Fishburne as Nelson Crowe, an ex-CIA agent who’s just been hired by an elite organization known as the "Toolshed,” which specializes in industrial espionage (twenty-one of their biggest clients are Fortune 500 companies) and is run by Vic Grimes (Frank Langella) and his second-in-command Margaret Wells (Ellen Barkin). Crowe’s first assignment is no big deal, sneaking into a mansion and getting incriminating video of a big-wig executive getting it on with his sixteen-year-old niece in the sack, but his next task is a bit more complicated, blackmailing a state Superior Court judge into casting the deciding vote in favor of their top client Walter Curl (Spalding Gray) in a lawsuit against his corporation citing illegal chemical-waste dumping that’s caused birth defects in the community’s newborns; Crowe and his right-hand man Tod Stapp (Michael Beach) have bought up the habitual-gambling judge’s delinquent twenty-five-thousand-dollar marker as a carrot and thrown in a million dollar’s cash as the stick. This isn’t exactly new territory for Crowe, who informs us via voiceover that when he was with the CIA it was a job requirement to indulge in “blackmail, bribery, subversion, the odd kidnapping,” and when asked if he has any moral dilemma aiding a megalomaniacal monster like Curl, he replies, “I expect I think about those deformed children as much as they think about me.” Suffice to say, top-heavy cynicism permeates the proceedings like smog enshrouding Los Angeles -- deep down these spies have absolutely no allegiance to either their company or one another; before long, Margaret is seducing and bedding Nelson to cooperate in killing off Vic so they can split up the Toolshed on a fifty-fifty partnership, and with the duplicitous CIA operative Smitty (Michael Murphy) who has a controlling interest in Crowe, and the judge’s southern-belle mistress Julie Ames (Gia Carides) agog over this lucrative payoff also figuring into the mix, trust is in very short supply. Everybody has an angle, and the sole individual who has anything indicative of a functioning moral sense winds up prevailing in the end even though his or her hands are far from clean. (Bad Company most definitely will not be taught in any kind of ethics class, especially with dialogue by the likes of, “Your only choices are hate and gratitude. Who wants to be grateful?”)

Still, quite a bit of this goes a long way, and by about the halfway mark we're non-plussed with all the sententious dog-eat-dog shenanigans. And because these uninteresting, unpleasant characters have so few dimensions, their acceptance of amorality hasn’t any resonance. The screenwriter, Ross Thomas, who gave us the passable 1976 Charles Bronson star vehicle St. Ives, isn’t nearly as daring as he’d like to think -- just because he’s conceived an array of conscience-deprived characterizations doesn’t equate into anything even remotely “profound.” (Roger Ebert, who praised Bad Company with a three-and-a-half-star rating, avers the intricate plotting is akin to the gradual unraveling of the layers of an onion, but what with the numerous plot holes, it’s more of a Swiss cheese.) And most of the performances, alas, don’t help. Fishburne, clean-shaven but who looks better with facial hair, has been called upon to exude a smoldering sensuality he’s simply incapable of; and Barkin, as she demonstrated in Sea of Love and Johnny Handsome, is always at her mannered worst when cast in blatant sex-bomb roles (her line reading “I don’t want to fish, I want to fuck” is the movie's low point). The only performer who manages to come through is Murphy, frequently cast as a nice guy and who seems to relish this rare opportunity to play a complete sleazoid -- when his Smitty exits a room you expect to see a slime trail left behind. The movie needs Murphy’s brio, because whenever he’s off-screen, which is much too often, you’re left having to respond to an anti-hero and anti-heroine who are both emotional and erotic zeroes. For a while I had hope the astute director Damian Harris, of the nifty Golden Hawn thriller Deceived, was going to pick up the pace and show the first-rate craftsmanship he’s capable of; but he keeps everything so self-consciously lurid and hermetically sealed that the movie is forever stuck in second gear and never manages to break free -- it doesn’t offer audiences the kind of release needed to consistently propel us along. Bad Company is an exceedingly good-looking production, mind you. Production designer Andrew McAlpine gives us gorgeous interiors whether it’s the Toolshed’s multi-layered office suite or Nelson’s luxurious downtown apartment, and Clint Eastwood’s regular cinematographer Jack N. Green bathes it all in deep-seated primary colors reminiscent of the best Art Deco. (Architectural Digest could do an entire cover story.) And that’s all the movie is -- an array of high-sheen surfaces employed by the moviemakers to try to disguise all of the contextual vapidity. It’s the kind of entertainment only an interior decorator could love.

The DVD sports a crisp 2.35:1 letterbox transfer and only a theatrical trailer as a special feature.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=28422&reviewer=327
originally posted: 02/05/15 02:27:24
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USA
  20-Jan-1995 (R)

UK
  N/A

Australia
  N/A


Directed by
  Damian Harris

Written by
  Ross Thomas

Cast
  Ellen Barkin
  Laurence Fishburne
  Frank Langella
  Michael Beach
  Spalding Gray



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