Sunday, April 10, 2016

Bad Influence (Curtis Hanson, 1990)

Let's say you're a yuppie who has it all. It's 1990, you got a sweet apartment (one that is filled with the kind of stuff yuppies like), you live in a nice neighbourhood, you're engaged to be married to Marcia Cross, your job, while tedious, pays well, and... Wait. Did I mention it's 1990? Or, more importantly, did I mention that you look like James Spader? I know, talk about having it all. Or does he? Have it all, that is. I don't think he does. Let's see. He doesn't really like Marica Cross, he doesn't need half the junk in his apartment, his slacker brother is always asking to borrow money and he hates his job. Sure, he still looks like James Spader, the sexiest man alive as far as I'm concerned. But even that doesn't seem to get him anywhere in Bad Influence, the film that begs the question: If James Spader approached Lisa Zane in a bar, would she really reject him? We'll get to that in a minute. Looking like James Spader can apparently only get you so far in Los Angeles circa 1990. But what if James Spader had a douchebag coach? What I mean is, what if James Spader had a sort of tutor that taught him how to be an asshole. I know, you're thinking to yourself: Isn't being an asshole a bad thing? Not in the world depicted in this film. In fact, the film should really be called "Good Influence." However, since Hollywood doesn't want it to get out that being a total dick/colossal hosebeast is the best thing a person can do for themselves in terms of self-improvement (everyone in Hollywood is either a total dick or a colossal hosebeast), the film turns into a cautionary tale about the dangers of ambition at around the midway point.

Enabling him to ditch his bland blouse-wearing fiancée is just one of the things James Spader's asshole tutor manages to swing for him. He also helps him turn things around at work, and finds a use for some of the stuff in his apartment. For example, the video camera (a purchase his stoner brother dismisses as wasteful) comes in handy in the dumping of his fiancée.

In case you haven't figured it out yet, James Spader's asshole tutor is played by Rob Lowe. Was there any doubt? I don't think so. With the stench of his sex tape scandal still lingering in the air, it made sense to exploit Rob Lowe's newfound bad boy status by casting him as an immoral con man/yuppie whisperer.

While any old con man can fleece a bunch of Hollywood phonies, it takes real skill to rehabilitate an under-performing yuppie. That being said, most of us will continue to ask the question: Does James Spader really need to be rehabilitated? Or, I should say, does Michael Boll (the name of Spader's character) really need rehabilitating? Of course, to most normal people, he's doing just fine. But to those living inside the L.A. douchebag bubble, he's floundering pretty badly. I mean, for one thing, this Paterson guy (Tony Maggio) at work is repeatedly making Michael look like a massive tool.

If Rob Lowe's "Alex," isn't fleecing Michael, why is he helping him? What I mean is, if it's not about the money (which Alex could have stolen from him without much effort), what does he want? Who knows? Seriously, though, I have no idea. Not much about Alex's background is revealed. It's true, the air of mystery that surrounds Rob Lowe's character gave him an almost supernatural quality (his apparent ability to disappear at will also added to this quality), but part of me would have liked to have known what his deal was.

The opening scene, which shows Alex leaving a woman's apartment in the early morning hours under suspicious circumstances, implies that he spends his days drifting from one con to another. But what is it about James Spader that makes him invest so much energy trying to improve his place the L.A. yuppie-verse of 1990?

At the end of the day it doesn't matter why he's helping him, all that matters is that Alex, despite his unorthodox methods, gets results.

And when I say "results," I'm talking about Lisa Zane's dynamic dick-pocket pounding the living fuckitude out of Michael's wayward cock.

As I just said, the film opens with Alex removing himself from the life of some woman in the early morning hours (he painstakingly gets rid of any photo that he's in and trashes all his personal-effects). Meanwhile, Michael is having a bad day at work. Not only does that aforementioned Paterson guy misplace "schedule 47," an important computer file of his, Marcia Cross, his fiancée, has decided to pop-in to tell him that she wants to postpone the wedding to November. You would think things couldn't get worse, but they do. The boyfriend of some chick at a nearby bar picks a fight with him and his brother, Pismo (Christian Clemenson), is asking for money again.

On the positive side, Rob Lowe's Alex steps in to help Michael with the whole bar fight situation. But unfortunately, Alex disappears before Michael can thank him. Oh, wait. There he is. While out jogging in black athletic clothes at night (fuck yeah), Michael spots Alex standing on a pier. After thanking him for saving his ass earlier in the day, Michael begins to wander away... when all of a sudden, Alex takes an interest in Michael's yuppie troubles.

Using the first of many nightclub passwords ("Dominate Athletic Woman"), Alex takes Michael to a club to see The Nymphs (an L.A. rock band fronted by Inger Lorre) and hit on Lisa Zane's Claire, the coolest woman... I want to say "the coolest woman on the planet," but let's not get carried away. Let's just say, she's the coolest woman currently in this club. Which is nothing to sneeze at, as the club scenes in this movie are chock-full of cool ass people.

Initially rebuffed by Claire, Michael... I don't know, man. Even though they have tried to make James Spader seem kind of dorky, he's still James Spader. Meaning, Claire should be wetter than an otter's taint. (An otter's taint?!?) What? They're pretty freaking wet. Anyway, after the Claire debacle, things begin to turn around for Michael when he out maneuvers, using advice he got from Alex, that Paterson guy at work the very next day.

Bumping into Alex later that evening, Michael is taken to an art gallery, where Alex introduces Michael to Claire. But instead of introducing him as Michael, he calls him "Dominique." It would seem that Alex (who now speaks with a French accent) has created a whole new persona for Michael. At first I thought, this seems unnecessarily convoluted. But then again, it gets results. And when I say, "results." I'm talking about Michael taking Claire back to his apartment to fuck her brains out.

Did I mention that Claire never leaves the house without a black backless dress and black stockings attached to her legs? I haven't? Well that's weird. The dress Claire wears during the art gallery/apartment scene is my favourite Claire outfit, as it boasts a healthy slit and had these oddly-shaped patterns around the neckline.

Asking what Michael fears and wants most in the world, Alex decides to speed things up, and takes his mentor-ship of Michael to the next level. Sabotaging his relationship with Marcia Cross and "neutralizing" his rival at work, Alex has done more for Michael in the past few days than anyone has in his entire life. However, and this is where things get complicated. You see, Michael has scruples, while Alex clearly does not. These differences in their characters end up clashing with one another and cause their almost brotherly bond to sour some bit.

While it was sad to see their relationship flounder the way it ultimately does, they at least got to attend what I consider to be one of the most awesome L.A. parties ever. Now, granted, the party isn't the wildest, nor does it feature music that I was particularly found of, but the atmosphere is too die for. A sort of late night goth garden party, the party (password: "Gay White Male") is teeming with black-clad denizens of the night. Call me crazy, but I could have sworn I saw Rozz Williams of Christian Death/Shadow Project fame hanging out on the stairs.

If you thought that party was awesome, wait until you get a load of the one where Pismo spies on Alex. First off, the club (password: "Fun Loving Couple Seeks...") is blasting "Who's Laughing Now?" by Skinny Puppy as lingerie-clad performance artists swing fluorescent lights with a reckless brand of abandon. And secondly... Actually, there is no "secondly." What else could you want? I mean, Skinny Puppy and lingerie. As far as I'm concerned, nothing else matters in this world.

It's too bad Michael and Alex couldn't have worked out their myriad issues in a less over the top (i.e. less violent) fashion, as I would have loved to have seen them (with Claire, of course) at this club together. Oh, well.

As with most thrillers of this type, the film gets super-ridiculous during its final third. That being said, the film is aesthetically superior to most of the junk I see on a regular basis. Let me break it down for you: James Spader, Rob Lowe, Skinny Puppy, black clothing, lingerie, slits, club scenes, Rozz Williams(?), and yeah. Wait, I almost forgot, Lisa Zane! I love her look. And, actually, you can thank her for making me aware of this movie. Oh, sure, I had heard of it. But after seeing her in the atrocious Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare, I thought to myself: I need more Lisa Zane in my life. So, I looked at her filmography, and the title "Bad Influence" jumped out at me. Thanks, Lisa and Freddy.


  1. I LOVE YOUR REVIEWS! Could you make one of Cyber bandits (1995) ? cheers

    1. Thanks. Cyber Bandits sounds amazing. I'm adding it to my "watchlist."