Friday, October 07, 2016

Negative Territory

I recently caught Less Than Zero (1987) on TV.  I'd never seen it before--nor read the Bret Easton Ellis book it's based on (though I am familiar with the Elvis Costello tune it's named after).  In fact, it was not a hit, and was not treated well by the critics, so I wasn't expecting much--and the film delivered on that promise.

The plot is pretty basic.  Clay (Andrew McCarthy as protagonist, proving this is the 1980s) comes back to Los Angeles after his first year of college out East.  He meets old classmates Blair (Jami Gertz) and Julian (Robert Downey, Jr.), both hooked on drugs, mostly cocaine.  Their supplier is another classmate, Rip (James Spader).

Clay starts sleeping with Blair (who's a model, by the way) while Julian goes downhill.  He comes from money, but his family has cut him off, and he can't afford to pay his drug bill.  So Rip forces him into prostitution.  Clay saves him from the life, but Julian dies of heart failure.  Oh well, at least Clay and Blair may turn out okay.

The movie is as much about its look as anything.  Fancy parties at hip clubs and chic houses, bathed in bright, basic colors.  And everyone in cool clothes (circa the 1980s--not quite Miami Vice, but not far from it).  It's all trying to convey glamorous sordidness.  But the trouble is, in making a film about a vacuous lifestyle, the film is as empty as the characters.  Director Marek Kanievska's camera pans and tracks all over the place, but the people he photographs aren't connecting, and have nothing to say.

McCarthy is a problem.  He's the good guy, but has no edge, and little chemistry with his costars.  He and Jamie Gertz bump and grind in all sorts of ways, but their relationship is mostly marking time in-between the actual story.  McCarthy has a red Corvette, practically a character itself, that he keeps stopping in the middle of the streets of Los Angeles (often to fight with or make love to Gertz) which are so oddly underpopulated that no one slams into him.

The music is also weird. Instead of 80s hits, which you'd think the kids would be dancing to, it's more often poorly redone rock classics from earlier years as the soundtrack to their prosperous ennui.

The characters who do register are Downey, Jr. and Spader.  Downey overdoes it, but in a film where so many seem zonked out, at least he gives you something to look at. (Today it also plays as a premonition of the life he was about to lead for some years to come.) And Spader is fun, as you'd expect, since even this early in his career he was playing the "Spader" role.

So I can't recommend it. I doubt many would.  But if you watch it as a bizarre artifact of the 1980s, you might enjoy it.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The unfairness of Hollywood, Jami Gertz is still very attractive (at least for old guys) and I don't see her that much. James Spader is now a tub of goo and stars in a series.

4:40 AM, October 07, 2016  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jamie starred in a sitcom, The Neighbors, a couple years ago. Meanwhile, where's Andrew McCarthy?

9:09 AM, October 07, 2016  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm watching a 1984 episode of Family Ties right now with Jami Gertz. Boy she was a hot number back then.

1:08 PM, October 07, 2016  

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