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Overall Rating

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look: 33.33%
Average: 16.67%
Pretty Bad50%
Total Crap: 0%

1 review, 6 user ratings

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Bad Influence
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by Jack Sommersby

"Idiotic 'Influence'"
2 stars

Coming off an extraordinary performance in the wonderful "sex, lies and videotape", Spader could've chosen a much better screenplay than this for his follow-up. He's very good, as usual, but the movie isn't even remotely worthy of him.

Bad Influence boasts such a superb first-half that it really is a shame the follow-through is so decidedly lacking, as if the moviemakers didn't have enough confidence in what they started off with and chose to add contrivance after contrivance to appease popcorn-munching, thirty-second-attention spans on a supposed path to box-office glory. Which is a shame because the dialogue has some occasional crunch, the direction is assured and confident, and the acting right on the money. The story is set in the high-stakes business world and late-night chic nightclubs of Los Angeles, the former of which a junior financial analyst, Michael Boll (James Spader), knows inside and out, and the latter of which a slick and confident ladies man, Alex (Rob Lowe), frequents with a dazzling success rate in the taking-women-home department. Their paths intersect one weekday afternoon while Michael, who's taken off early after having had a rotten day at work: a ruthless colleague bucking for the same promotion has stolen Michael's pertinent section report; and when Michael confronts him with it, the colleague stands his ground and Michael backs off. Michael's the ultimate anal-retentive, materialistic yuppie who has no genuine sense of his self-worth: he defines himself by his possessions (like a video camera and golf clubs he has absolutely no use for) and his big salary; and it's Alex, who's uncommonly perceptive, who works on him and gets him to stand up for himself. In addition, he gets the ulcer-ridden Michael to loosen up and enjoy life. Michael's engaged to a wealthy surgeon's daughter who he doesn't feel much in the way of passion or love for; Alex starts taking him to clubs chock-full of uninhibited women where he starts doing drugs and engaging in no-strings-attached sex. So far, the movie is quite entertaining with two beautifully detailed performances from Spader and Lowe, both of whom have been cast against type, and they more than deliver. Even though the character is far from original, Spader, an incredibly intuitive thespian, manages to find some interesting corners and facets within Michael -- he makes him much more than a sissy nebbish, which would have been the easy, copout way to go; he suggests intelligence but also timidity without uncouth italicizing -- he draws us into Michael's internal plight through nuance and uncommon tact. (He allows us to immediately yield to him right from the onset when getting up the courage to face up to his on-the-work adversary by simply splashing water in his face in the washroom beforehand). And Lowe, with admirable confidence that the camera will reach in and get the performance in his understated interpretation, lets us know that this black-suited Armani slickster is nobody to mess with. In a very physically expressive performance, Lowe uses his eyes very cannily, zeroing in on Michael with a laser focus that effortlessly sears through; he knows what Michael innately wants because he's a mirror sense of a take-charge, manipulative Alex -- Shakespearean-wise, he's an Iago to Michael's Othello.

But in a dreadful way for the sole sake of venturing into Hitchcockian territory, the screenwriter David Koepp, who demonstrated in The Trigger Effect and Apartment Zero that he has fine story ideas but little solidity when it comes to the actual development of them, eventually dwindles everything down to standardized, easily-resolved conflict with dour thriller aspects that just don't coalesce with the characters we've come to know. Alex is revealed to be a sociopath who turns on Michael when Michael distances himself from him when Alex turns violent toward Michael's colleague, which is understandable but still clunky in that Michael didn't do so earlier after Alex and his drunken self have robbed a couple of liquor stores (with the implausibility factor multiplied being that nobody managed to write down Michael's license plate). Eventually, murder is introduced into the equation, with Michael being framed for the killing of his recent female conquest, which leads to tiresome scenes of having to move a body in an apartment building and parking garage (once again, as can only occur in Movieland, no one can smell a recently-slaughtered corpse upon entering an abode). I think we're supposed to see that Alex represents Michael's suppressed Id, that when pushed even a mild-mannered analyst is capable of violence; even more tritely, it's spelled out by another character, Michael's pot-smoking/do-nothing brother (who, I shudder to think, the moviemakers view as more "pure" than Michael because he's not vapidly materialistic), that Michael has become just like Alex, which is characterization by dossier rather than dramatization. And in the movie's biggest howler, when it comes time for Alex to explain his motivation, all we get is, "People are such hypocrites. They just pretend to be innocent but they're not." Shatteringly insightful, no? The director is Curtis Hanson, who proved himself a stellar craftsman four years prior with the underrated serial-killer tale The Bedroom Window; he was also the sole screenwriter there, and while there were some plot holes, the characters were three-dimensional and the villain was bereft of Psych 101 puerility. It was also eerily atmospheric, and while Bad Influence has some texture (the office and night-club settings are well-etched and precisely lit by the talented Robert Elswit) it's not particularly tantalizing because the odiousness and obviousness to the story keep undercutting the edge Hanson tries like mad garnishing onto the material. Koepp's script plays out more like a hastily devised first draft without the colorful details that would fill in the gaps; it doesn't have the observations and tricky plot mechanics that would give the movie some girth -- it's a triumph of stylish production design that crashes and burns whenever it hits ground because there's nothing in the way of gravitas rooting it in anything even halfway substantial. Pretentious, distasteful and ludicrous (there's even that eye-rolling cliche of someone standing behind an open refrigerator door for an easy shock), Bad Influence is far from influential but bad it is.

Skip it.

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originally posted: 06/16/11 02:46:11
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User Comments

12/29/17 morris campbell solid flick beware strangers posing as friends 4 stars
7/27/17 danR I don't understand the rating system. 2 4's, 2 3's, -> 60% 'pretty bad'?! 4-star, folks. 4 stars
3/15/17 Anne Selby makes you think how easily someone can be influenced by evil 4 stars
8/25/04 Agent Sands James Spader rocks in this very entertaining pre-LA Confidential Hanson effort. 4 stars
3/20/03 Jack Sommersby Sure-handed, well-acted thriller unwisely goes awry and banal in second half. 3 stars
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  02-Mar-1990 (R)



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