Bad Movies We Love: The Informers
Wherein we revive one of Movieline's finest, most enduring legacies, Bad Movies We Love:
The Bret Easton Ellis canon has yielded more than its share of outré screen adaptations since 1987, when Less Than Zero, effectively capped that go-go decade with now-dated, debauched thrills. The graphically unfilmable American Psycho wore its campy excess with pride in 2000, giving way two years later to the sordid mixed bag (at best) that was The Rules of Attraction. "We get it, already" viewers say, bleary eyes rolling into the back of their heads. But that's exactly the thing: Until The Informers, director Gregor Jordan's spectacularly misbegotten take on Ellis's 1994 short-story collection, it was impossible to know just how much you didn't get. Or rather, couldn't get.
The first of Ellis's works in which he had a direct hand in adapting, The Informers is also the first such film to lack any humor, dynamics, or thematic value whatsoever. Which, like any Bad Movie We Love, turns out to be a beautiful thing. I wouldn't blame (or credit) Ellis too much, though; what limited press he's done for the film suggests his disheartened detachment, while word on the street is that co-writer Nick Jarecki disowns the studio's final cut entirely. C'est la Hollywood, their characters here might say: The news anchor (Winona Ryder) trying to end an affair with movie mogul (Billy Bob Thornton), whose pill-popping wife (Kim Basinger) happens to share a lover (Austin Nichols) with their bisexual son (Jon Foster), whose shirt-allergic girlfriend (Amber Heard) shares, well, everyone except their mutual friend (Lou Taylor Pucci), who...
...takes off to Hawaii anyway with his estranged, perennially drunk father (Chris Isaak) while everyone back home prepares for a big concert by the film's resident child-fucker junkie (Mel Raido), who somehow possesses slightly more integrity than the child-selling mercenary (Mickey Rourke), who just shows up one day to torment a young apartment doorman (Brad Renfro), who... I don't even know. Oh, and since it's Los Angeles in 1983, so someone's got to get AIDS, because none of the above confers lost innocence quite the way fatal communicable disease does.
They try, though -- do they ever try, right from the opening montage, when all those nubile, partying white bodies lose one of their ranks to a brilliantly set-up act of accidental carnage. That can't foretell happy times, though it does lead to a bitchin' wake featuring sushi and the
inexpensively licensed moving ballads of Pat Benatar. The drama commences immediately: Was the deceased an asshole or just misguided? Will Basinger agree to dinner with Thornton? And who does a bronzed son of privilege have to blow around here to get another vodka tonic?
This is about as close to self-effacement as The Informers (or at least its final cut) gets. There are fleeting exceptions, none more consistent than Isaak's scenes with Pucci, during which wasted father and cynical son frown at each other with almost tragicomic disaffection. They're doomed, of course -- everyone is -- but at least their dissolution defies Jordan's furrow-browed suffering fetish.
The others aren't as lucky. Still, watching them writhe in the filmmaker's conceptual trap is a gripping, deeply guilty entertainment in itself. Heard takes her sentence literally, sort of a postmodern Sylvia Kristel who must pay for her cavalier sexual expression. Foster's hilltop heartache (and his forlorn yelp, "She's the best thing that ever happened to me!") yearns for relief, or at least a little more dignified green-screen background. One gets the sense that Thornton demanded doing his close-ups with his paycheck rather than Basinger in his eyeline. And poor Ryder, shipwrecked on the shoals of purposelessness, emotes into phones, over cigarettes, and finally into the slo-mo oblivion just beyond her paramour's busted marriage.
Even the gruesome Raido and Rourke subplots can't be wholly dismissed, though their exchange of cheap, WTF mortality for the more urgent matters of child exploitation does quite a job stifling the mood. Renfro's contribution is particularly vile, all jittery physiology and vulgarity, an echoing paragon of wasted youth. Rourke "works" with him only insofar as he reads lines, never removing his sunglasses lest his co-star's fleeing soul scorch his eyes. And Raido, well, hey. Slipping en route from the tub to the phone and slicing one's hand open on a liquor bottle never. Looked. Sexier. In that sense, The Informers owes much to Ellis's depraved source. In about every other sense, the film owes more to the soap-opera gods than it can ever repay. Put the "you" in restitution, and see just how beautifully bad all of it can be.