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Less Than Boring

Vaguely satiric novel of excess turned into moralizing movie

Mickey Rourke blows some of that nominated-for-an-Oscar capital in The Informers.

The Informers

Director:Gregor Jordan
Cast:Jon Foster, Amber Heard, Austin Nichols, Billy Bob Thornton, Kim Basinger, Winona Ryder, Mel Raido, Mickey Rourke
Release Date:2009

Opens April 24 at the Charles Theatre

By Bret McCabe | Posted 4/22/2009

A California blond leaves her boyfriend to chat with his sister and dives into a foursome with the boyfriend's friend and another couple because she can. An adored rock star finds an underwear-clad young woman from Nebraska waiting for him in his room--he gets her to role-play up her girl-next-door appeal before kissing her gently, putting his hand around her throat, and giving her face his fist. A dodgy man kidnaps a pre-adolescent boy because he knows some even more shady types who pay a pretty penny for a package like that. Welcome to the 1983 Los Angeles of director Gregor Jordan's The Informers.

If only the movie had anything to say about such unpleasantness instead of falling into a reactionary comfort zone. Beautiful people doing ugly things: That's pretty much the working idea behind a large slice of contemporary entertainment, from the generically beautiful people doing childish things on reality TV programs to the idealized young hard bodies getting hacked to pieces in contemporary horror's gore porn. Bret Easton Ellis didn't invent this subgenre of fantasy, but he did perfect a peculiarly and purposely empty version of it in his novels of 1980s excess, such as Less Than Zero and American Psycho. His 1994 The Informers reins in the over-crank of Psycho, but it's also more structurally elusive, offering a loosely interconnected cast of characters and storylines that mine an early 1980s Los Angeles of night-crawlers and day-walkers, each fogged over by self-medications and some kind of emotional distress.

Ellis and screenwriter Nicholas Jarecki compress the source novel's meandering plotlines and distanced, antiseptic tone into a single year, literalizing many of the novel's relationships and cause-and-effect situations. This compression gives the storylines a more manageable trajectory, but it also kills the novel's sense of drift. A hollow pointlessness invades Ellis' sentences in the book, where its deadpan divergences into fantasy--stories about vampires and Grand Guignol excess of fleshy descriptions--are rendered in the same affectless voice of its bored and wealthy characters, who can't even be bothered to have anything resembling a human experience that isn't mediated through some chemical veil. For the movie, everybody and everything feeds back to some vague notion of a central theme, and Jordan opts for one of the oldest and most convenient: a search for the difference between right and wrong.

Yes, Ellis' imaginative exploitation of the consequences of living a privileged, consequence-free lifestyle has been turned into a facile morality play, one in which it's the hot young female sexpot who gets afflicted by that scary new 1980s sexually transmitted disease, one in which a drug-dealing child of a studio exec whines about how nobody tells him what's good and what's bad while huffing lines with a friend in his convertible Porsche parked somewhere in the Hollywood Hills, and one in which a posh apartment building's front desk person is an aspiring actor who actually says--in his out-loud voice--something about how, in this city, sometimes you have to be willing to do awful things in order to get ahead. And turning The Informers into such banal statements of the obvious is a bit like trying to argue that the Marquis de Sade's 120 Days of Sodom is only a parable about why it's bad to kidnap underage boys and girls and sexually abuse them before subjecting them to heinously inventive ways to die.

Jordan resorts to such licentious overkill, depicting decadence only to judge it. Casual drug-dealer Graham (Jon Foster, who, in one of the movie's inadvertent jokes, often looks very much like Psycho star Christian Bale) mopes around looking serious, feeling something about the way his girlfriend Christie (Amber Heard) freely goes to bed with his friend Martin (Austin Nichols), with whom Graham also occasionally sleeps. Graham's studio exec father William (Billy Bob Thornton) is just as adrift, trying to get back together with his estranged wife Laura (Kim Basinger) after leaving her for local newscaster Cheryl (Winona Ryder). Laura herself seeks solace in meds and Martin's body. Meanwhile, rock star Bryan Metro (Mel Raido, who, in the right severe lighting, does a pretty good Peter Murphy) floats through his L.A. tour stop on a rollercoaster of drugs, booze, and illicit sex.

All these characters collide in moments of fortuitous circumstance to hammer home the movie's conventional morality. The few times the movie understands the novel's more slippery tone arrive in interstitial images that capture L.A.'s highways clogged with cars, each hurrying along, purposeless. Ellis isn't some wise sage or even acerbic quill of his era, but he understood his characters enough to explore their destination-unknown existences with eyes and ears open to their thoughts and deeds. Jordan's Informers merely wants to rub people's noses in the self-destructive follies of 1980s wealth.

E-mail Bret McCabe

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