Sunday, August 30, 2009


Bret Easton Ellis is a wrecker. He is out to hurt you, gentle reader. On a whim, I read AMERICAN PSYCHO back in the early 90s, and I still sport the scar tissue. A friend of mine years later gave me a VHS copy of LESS THAN ZERO starring Robert Downey Junior which is based on Ellis’ debut book. The movie was so ugly that it confirmed my antipathy for Ellis’ work. THE INFORMERS is a film based loosely on Ellis’ 1994 book of short stories of the same title.

THE INFORMERS is an ensemble piece, much like Altman’s films NASHVILLE or SHORT CUTS. Set in 1983, THE INFORMERS contains about seven interweaving stories all put to an exclusively 80s musical backdrop. The players in this film are strong. Mickey Rourke, Kim Basinger, Winona Ryder and Billy Bob Thorton all deliver what is required of them. Chris Isaac also delivers a convincing, perpetually drunken role that demonstrates him as an actual actor and not some washed up crooner.

Opulence and decadence are at the center of this film about wasted, rich youth sexing and drugging their way through their listless lives. If that isn’t enough, the film shows how the parents and older relatives of this group pass their corrupt baton of self-centered amorality to their kids. It is almost like Bret Easton Ellis was so proud of the maniac he created (Patrick Bateman) in AMERICAN PSYCHO that he has found an excuse to make an entire crew of sociopaths.

There is nothing positive to be expected from Graham (Jon Foster) who has just lost his friend in a freak auto accident. Graham’s girlfriend Christie (Amber Heard) is a quaaluded out, polyamorous trinket that bounces between Graham and his friends. She is doing a lot of sleeping with Graham’s music video director friend Martin (Austin Nichols), and this is giving Graham a slight twinge of stress. But his discomfort is barely tangible because he is completely stoned most of the time.

Graham is dealing drugs, and it is never really clear why. He doesn’t need the money. His mother Laura (Kim Basinger) knows about his drug sales, but she is drinking herself into oblivion while sleeping with Martin and nursing a broken heart over her separation from her husband William (Billy Bob Thorton). William is playing like he is still interested in Laura so as to avoid a divorce that would likely bankrupt him. But his heart is actually lost to Cheryl (Winona Ryder) a local newscaster. Cheryl can’t seem to break completely away from William, and William can’t seem to get the message that Cheryl is trying to get away. Somewhere in this train wreck of lives, Les Price (Chris Isaac) a degenerate, drunken father, drags his son to Hawaii to reconnect over Mai-Tais. There is also a subplot about a band called The Informers, and their story is completely concerned with more of the same unhinged moral abandon that permeates this glossy meditation on garbage.

Underneath all of this R-rated soap opera fluff is Uncle Pete (Mickey Rourke) a pedophilic criminal straight out of the deserts of Barstow. In truth, and my pro-Rourke bias aside, Uncle Pete is the most interesting character in this film. Rourke upstages so hard that actors in surrounding scenes are sucked out of the movie by the force of his performance. He drives a serial killer van, dresses like a thrift store-shopping pimp, and has a girlfriend who is obviously a minor. Pete can’t be bothered with her age, nor does he even break his stride when he kidnaps a ten year old boy to sell into what seems to be a prostitution ring. Pete stashes the kid in a bathtub at the house of his off-kilter nephew Jack (Brad Refro).

THE INFORMERS is actually dedicated to Brad Renfro who died of a heroin overdose while the film was nearing the end of its production. It is unfortunate that Renfro died of a heroin overdose. It is even more unfortunate that this offensive film is his last piece of work.

When the convoluted plot finally stabilizes in the last scene, it is didactic to the point of irritation. The threat of AIDS isn’t just alluded to; it is hammered home to the viewer. This could have been an interesting film if there was a reason to care about the wasted lives involved. This movie is trash, focused on trash, and needs to be thrown away like trash.

There is a bright spot in all of this refuse though. The official movie soundtrack for THE INFORMERS pounds. 7Ray’s “SCARLET SKY” is a beautiful, synth-heavy tribute to everything good about 80s pop music. The Flock of Seagulls “I RAN” sounds as good as it did when it was slapped back to life for GRAND THEFT AUTO: VICE CITY. Like a good slathering of hot sauce, The Simple Minds, Gary Numan, Wang-Chung, and Men Without Hats all add wonderful nostalgic flavor to something inherently rotten.

The film works mostly in a negative direction and misses except for the acting and the soundtrack. The younger actors in this film carry the weight of the drama, but the elder, headlining actors cement the experience with roles of varying disturbance, showing how completely lost the generation was before the 80s. These actors all do their jobs convincingly enough, they just have nothing special to do but convey some sort of soul vacancy.

Bret Easton Ellis is a king at scripting bleak, opulent existence. Bret’s book sequel to LESS THAN ZERO is slated to come out next year, and honestly, I am tired of the world he wants us to see. It would probably be dangerous for him to consider writing human beings with souls because it would jeopardize his career as an expert on a loser sub-category of a specific era.

It is not clear what was going on when he and Nicholas Jarecki put THE INFORMERS script together. Apparently there was supposed to be a vampire subplot in this mess as well. However, when the producers dumped Jarecki as director and went with Gregor Jordan, he gutted the script and killed all aspects of the preternatural. The soulless spirit abides however. In truth, what were we supposed to expect from Ellis? This is a man who is out to hurt us. Fortunately, this film doesn’t really succeed in offending or inspiring an after-film coffee conversation. If anything, it is successful in being boring. THE INFORMERS is as vacuous as its characters. It is a film devoid of humanity.

-Mediasaurus Rex

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