I've never read a Bret Easton Ellis novel, but if they're anything like the film adaptations of his work, I don't think I want to. The author of such bestsellers as "Less Than Zero" and "The Rules of Attraction" has carved a lucrative niche chronicling the depraved, wasted lives of America's privileged youth, and how their insatiable thirst for thrills often leads them to ruin. Having everything isn't enough for Ellis' spoiled crowd; lost in a meaningless world of excess, these vapid pleasure-seekers wander aimlessly about, sucking the nectar from every piece of forbidden fruit they can scrounge. Drugs and sex salve their wounds and provide fleeting moments of euphoria, but can't nourish their narcissistic souls.
'The Informers,' a truly awful film based on an early collection of Ellis stories, treads familiar territory in its depiction of the hedonistic lifestyles of the rich and reckless. And like most of the author's works, it expects us to feel sorry for these pampered, parasitic children gone astray. Unfortunately, the only sympathy this horrific picture engenders is for the fine, misguided actors who populate it.
Though at times stylishly filmed and boasting an impressive cast, Gregor Jordan's crass peep show isn't worth the celluloid it's shot on. Yes, we feel the mind-numbing emptiness that consumes the shallow characters and thrusts them into an immoral abyss, but just because they're emotionally dead doesn't mean the movie has to be, too. Just because they can't connect – with each other and the world around them – doesn't mean the audience must also feel disconnected. At the very least, the gratuitous nudity, kinky sex, graphic drug use, and sordid situations that pervade this psychedelic train wreck should provide some perverse titillation, but we quickly become just as bored by it all as the guys and girls involved. As a result, 'The Informers' doesn't even rate highly enough to merit guilty pleasure status.
The film also fails because it broadcasts its simplistic message – that too much money breeds detachment from reality, makes one unable to relate to others, and turns bright people into scum-bucket zombies who stagger from one wild party to the next – in its first 15 minutes, and never builds upon it. Instead, with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, it ceaselessly pummels the point as we dazedly watch a bevy of buffed, curvaceous, scantily clad bodies drink, snort, freebase, and screw themselves into oblivion. Even Amber Heard traipsing around topless gets old pretty quick. (Yes, it does.)
There's no real plot, just an unlikable assortment of self-absorbed, depressed losers indulging their libidos in early '80s L.A. at the dawn of the AIDS epidemic. William Sloan (Billy Bob Thornton) is a cold Hollywood studio chief who half-heartedly tries to patch up his marriage to trophy wife Laura (Kim Basinger) while still pursuing his former mistress (Winona Ryder). Both ignore their two college-age kids, Graham (Jon Foster) and Susan (Cameron Goodman), who party hardy 24/7 with such beautiful, degenerate, bleached-blond playmates as Christie (Amber Heard), Martin (Austin Nichols), and Tim (Lou Taylor Pucci). Martin secretly beds Graham's mom (in between trysts with Christie and Graham, together and separately), while Tim's dad (Chris Isaak) takes his teenage son to Hawaii for a wild weekend of debauchery. (Didn't you and your father get drunk together and try to pick up chicks at the bar?) Other oddballs include a disillusioned rock star (Rhys Ifans) with a penchant for underage sexual partners, and a wrong-side-of-the-tracks doorman (Brad Renfro in his final role) who becomes an unwilling accomplice to a child kidnapping engineered by his redneck uncle (Mickey Rourke) in the hope of securing enough ransom money to buy the Beverly Hills good life.
Ellis, who co-wrote the screenplay (which contains some dreadful dialogue), wallows in the era's loose morals, free love, conspicuous consumption, and shameless egotism. (The parallels to ancient Rome are striking.) Yet the disparate stories in this 'Crash'-like narrative structure never really interconnect, and the whole enterprise feels horribly underdeveloped. Plot threads go nowhere, there's no climax or catharsis, and nothing is resolved in the end. Moments of tongue-in-cheek '80s humor lighten the sleazy load, but there's a very fine line between laughing with 'The Informers' and laughing at it.
A gaunt Thornton walks around in a stupor throughout; Basinger often looks like she's reliving scenes she once played at home with ex-hubby Alec Baldwin; Ryder is just plain terrible as an aging TV reporter; Rourke is all cardboard swagger and bravado; and the young juveniles pout and slink like predatory felines. Only Renfro, himself a victim of the self-destructive lifestyle the film depicts, tries to get under the skin of his under-written character, and adds mild interest to a few brief scenes.
For many, showering is a mandatory activity after watching a Bret Easton Ellis film, and 'The Informers' will surely make you want to cleanse yourself but quick. Industrial-strength soap and a scrub brush are optional, but recommended.
Beautiful people demand a beautiful transfer, and for the most part, Sony's 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 effort is pretty slick. The bronzed bodies, waxed chests, and dyed hair only rarely betray their cosmetic origins, while the weathered faces of Thornton and Rourke contrast well with all the nubile skin. Though close-ups never achieve eye-popping dimensionality, they're often strikingly detailed, and fabrics look crisp and vivid. The muted color palette is likely an intentional choice, as the characters' hard-partying lifestyle saps their health, but isolated vibrancy stokes up the picture now and then. Fleshtones are solid across the board, black levels possess good weight and depth, and shadow detail is just fine.
Light grain lends the image welcome texture, but a thin haze often dilutes sharpness. (This thin haze is not to be confused with the heavy fog in which most of the characters stumble about throughout the film.) Exteriors can be gritty, but most interiors flaunt a luxurious feel that nicely reflects the pervasive over-the-top affluence. Nary a speck sullies the pristine source material and no digital tinkering could be detected. CGI effects, however, are quite noticeable in a couple of scenes.
This is far from an A+ transfer, but it's very watchable, even if the on-screen content keeps tempting you to turn it off.
'The Informers' comes equipped with an adequate but unexciting Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track that offers little in the way of a true surround experience. Most of the sonic action is anchored in the front channels, and mild stereo separation widens the field enough to add sufficient atmosphere. Still, the rears stay pretty quiet most of the time, kicking in slightly when an airplane lands or during the rock concert sequence, but not enough to get an audiophile's juices flowing. Highs and lows are well modulated, but bass frequencies only shine when the '80s soundtrack tunes rev up. (Gotta love such iconic '80s songs as "Dance Hall Days," "Cars," "The Safety Dance," and "Shadows of the Night.")
Dialogue is generally comprehendible, although at times the jaded, mopey characters mumble a bit. No distortion or imperfections muddy the mix, which rarely rises above the mundane. One would think a film chronicling the pursuit of sensation would try and give the ears a thrill, but there's little sonic stimulation here.
The extras are pretty blah, but is that really surprising?
When it's time to take out the trash, don't forget to throw your copy of 'The Informers' in the bin. This dull, emotionless film vacillates between dark comedy, sterile drama, and soft-core porn, as it salutes, lampoons, and indicts a destructive, out-of-control decade. Good video, adequate audio, and so-so supplements can't possibly enhance this mess, which should be avoided at all costs.
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