Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5.
USA, 1990. Epic Productions, Producers Representative Organization, Sarliu/Diamant. Screenplay by David Koepp. Cinematography by Robert Elswit. Produced by Steve Tisch. Music by Trevor Jones. Production Design by Ron Foreman. Costume Design by Malissa Daniel. Film Editing by Bonnie Koehler.
James Spader is a straight-arrow stock broker whose life is constantly dumping on him: he’s about to marry a woman (Marcia Cross) he doesn’t love, his colleagues at work don’t respect him and frequently take advantage of his hard work, and his home is a pile of expensive possessions that mean nothing to him. His former drug addict brother (Christian Clemenson) is something of a mirror to what he fears he might become if he loses control, but then a mysterious stranger swoops in out of nowhere and changes his life. Accidentally enraging a bully at a bar and nearly getting himself killed, Spader is saved by suave Rob Lowe (here taking advantage of his own recent sex scandal) and the two become friends. At first the friendship inspires Spader to become more confident, dealing with his work and marriage situations, but then their activities start to get darker, involving drugs, armed robberies and eventually murder; now that he’s in too deep, Spader tries to distance himself from his clearly psychotic friend, but Lowe has the hooks in him and won’t let him go. Stylishly directed without the least bit of substance, this fun but soulless movie could have gotten away with its outlandish conceit if it tried to be in the least bit of a character study; Spader wrestles with his situation but not with his soul, the third act leaves behind any moral gray area and instead resorts to a good vs evil thriller that actually validates the materialism that the beginning of the story was questioning (Hollywood thrillers often try to leave the audience on the same capitalist block they found them on, like a video game that restores your lives when you’re ready to go again). Without any emotional impetus for Lowe’s obsession, like envy or (god forbid) something erotic, the villain’s determination to win is scary but not fascinating, something director Curtis Hanson would improve on when he remade this film with women as The Hand That Rocks The Cradle and gave his antagonist a concrete purpose (and, as a result, that time he had a hit movie). All this said, there are some wonderfully baroque moments that take one back to the styles of the late eighties happening here, and thanks to the commitment by the stars, some of the twists of the plot are actually quite thrilling.