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Bad Influence

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    John Gargo
    Senior Member

  • Bad Influence




    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: May 24th, 2016.
    Director: Curtis Hanson
    Cast: James Spader, Rob Lowe
    Year: 1990
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Film:


    Michael Boll (James Spader) is a nebbish financial analyst who suffers from that most bourgeois of anxieties - the banality of success. His upscale apartment is loaded with status symbols that serve as signifiers for his empty existence. He owns a fancy set of golf clubs even though he has never played the game, and he buys an expensive video camera that he has no intentions of using simply because he got a good deal on it. In his private life, he despairs over his engagement to a wealthy and well-connected woman. Meanwhile, his professional life is marred by a rivalry with a bullying coworker over a coveted leadership position.

    Michael's fortunes change when he crosses paths with a mysterious stranger named Alex (Rob Lowe). Whereas Michael's character is defined by his timidity, Alex seems positively uninhibited in the pursuit of his desires. The two strike up an unlikely friendship and Alex begins to take an active interest in improving Michael's messy professional and private life. Alex's initial interventions prove beneficial to Michael, but things quickly escalate into recklessness, criminal behavior and eventually murder.

    Bad Influence is a film that's easy to admire on a purely technical level. For one, the performances are excellent across the board. Spader, just off the success of Steven Soderbergh's Sex, Lies and Videotape, does a good job portraying the timid protagonist who finds himself seduced (with subtle homoerotic undertones, of course) by an alluring stranger. Rob Lowe seems to be enjoying himself immensely in a role that ranges from threatening malevolence to sheer silliness (a running gag has him adopting a series of absurd foreign accents). Curtis Hanson's subtly sleek direction keeps things looking good; he would go on to helm 1992's The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, and both films are good examples of the slick early-90s thriller.

    The best thing to recommend about Bad Influence is its real sense of time and place. The film does a great job evoking its late-80s/early-90s Los Angeles milieu of pop-up night clubs and pretentious art galleries. The filmmakers also make excellent use of some naturally picturesque landmarks, like the La Brea Tar Pits and the Hermosa Beach Pier. The director of photography on this picture is Robert Elswit, who would go on to work on all of Paul Thomas Anderson's films and also 2014's excellent thriller Nightcrawler; simply put, this is a man who knows how to film Los Angeles, and it looks wonderful.

    Unfortunately, David Koepp's derivative screenplay lets the film down. The viewer is always a beat or two ahead of the action and so things are never quite as shocking or thrilling as they're meant to be. And while the film looks great, its theme of last-gasp yuppie angst is never fully articulated in any meaningful way (Bret Easton Ellis would mine this material in his 1991 novel American Psycho, a much more successful variation on this subject). As he is presented in the film, Spader's Michael is not an entirely likable protagonist. The viewer never has any real stake in his plight, and so the plot machinations that dominate the film's second half are robbed of any real weight. One of the final speeches in the film strives to underline its message about societal hypocrisy but the moment feels a little too scripted and “on the nose.” Koepp would go on to pen a series of successful and high-profile screenplays in the 1990s (among them Spielberg's Jurassic Park and De Palma's Carlito's Way) but Bad Influence very much feels like an early work from a promising talent.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Shout Factory's Blu-ray release of Bad Influence features a decent 1080p widescreen transfer that is framed at 1.85:1. There are numerous instances of fleck and dirt throughout the film but no glaring imperfections to distract from viewing.

    On the audio front, the blu-ray features a DTS-HD Master Audio Stereo track that does a serviceable job. The film's score is by Trevor Jones (probably most famous for The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, his two collaborations with Jim Henson) and it sounds fine. The disc also features English subtitles.

    The substantial extra on Shout Factory's release is a half-hour interview with screenwriter David Koepp called “Under the Influence.” It's a fairly informative piece, with Koepp discussing not only his work on the film but on the nature of screenwriting as a whole. There is also a theatrical trailer.

    The Final Word:

    Bad Influence is a fairly decent thriller for fans of the genre but viewers should go in with lowered expectations; it is hardly the Hitchcockian drama that the promotional material suggests. The film is more like a glossy early 90s cable television thriller, like La Femme Nikita, with more explicit sex and violence. Ultimately, Bad Influence's real value lies in its depiction of a Los Angeles on the tail end of the Reagan Era; its central conflict between a status-obsessed yuppie and a hedonistic sociopath seems an apt reflection of the spirit of the age.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!



















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