Fans of Bret Easton Ellis's 1994 short-story collection "The Informers" may be upset to learn that the movie adaptation doesn't contain a trace of the vampire element that ran through several of the stories.
You could've fooled me.
If it weren't for the fact that the movie is set in the bright-and-sunny days of Reagan-era Los Angeles, "The Informers" could easily be mistaken for another flick full of wandering, vainglorious bloodsuckers. (Actually, there was supposed to be a vampire subplot featuring "Superman Returns" star Brandon Routh as a nightwalker. But it was taken out of the final cut.)
It's a movie that's filled to the brim with the pretty, the pale and the undoubtedly soulless. I'm assuming that's why Ellis added vampires to the book in the first place -- in the Los Angeles of the '80s, who could tell the difference, right?
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
The movie mostly involves one bored, upper-class family and the things that keep them comfortably numb: son Graham (Jon Foster) is in love with his girlfriend (the constantly topless Amber Heard). Unfortunately, she has this problem of having sex with his friends, including a buddy who was recently mowed down by a car after a party.
The dad (Billy Bob Thornton) is a movie mogul who left his emotionally unstable wife (Kim Basinger) for a TV news anchor (Winona Ryder). He wants to get back together with his wife while still keeping a girl on the side, a girl who sadly can't get it through his thick skull that she wants to be left alone.
Don't cry for momma though; she's staying sane by having afternoon delights with a music-video director (Austin Nichols), who occasionally gets his threesome on with Graham and his girlfriend. Oh, it's like a soap opera, baby!
There are other wacky things afoot in La La Land: a visiting, self-destructive rock star (Mel Raido) comes to town with his titular band, hooking up with any boy/girl groupie in sight while trying desperately to get his ex to let him see his kid. Graham's buddy Tim (Lou Taylor Pucci) is off on a male-bonding, Hawaiian vacation with his boozing father (Chris Isaak), which turns awkward and intense even before they take off. And let's not forget Graham's jittery doorman (Brad Renfro, in his last role), who has to deal with his "uncle" (a pre-Oscar buzz Mickey Rourke) staying at his place with an underaged junkie girl and a kid they both kidnapped.
"Informers" was critically reviled when it premiered at Sundance this year, which should tell you something. When a film festival as increasingly superficial as Sundance wants nothing to do with a flick, you know it's just bad news all around.
The movie appeared to be a diasater even before the cameras rolled. Ellis and author/filmmaker Nicholas Jarecki reportedly wrote a script that was originally light-hearted and satirical. But the producers replaced original director Jarecki with Australian director Gregor Jordan ("Buffalo Soldiers"), who turned it into the dull, moody slog that it is now.
It's apparent that Jordan is trying to do an all-star morality tale with "Informers," with characters who strive to do some good with their lives and others who don't and severely pay the price. (Because it's set in the early '80s, you can expect AIDS to come down and strike one very irresponsibly promiscuous character.) It's like he's trying to do a Douglas Sirk film with a Ralph Lauren wardrobe and an obnoxious, new-wave soundtrack. But I can't stress enough how odd this movie is without vampires, especially since the entire flick looks like it's been drained of life -- both the characters and the interweaving stories. It's like vampires just went into the projection room and sucked all the action out of the film print.
If anything, watching "Informers" made me better appreciate the work of New Queer Cinema director Gregg Araki (who has practically been doing unofficial film versions of Ellis novels for most of his career). I mean, didn't he do a better job showing horny and aimless youth running wild in Los Angeles in his 1997 flick "Nowhere"? It makes me wonder how he would've handled this flick. He certainly would've found a way to get former "91/2Weeks" lovers Basinger and Rourke together in the same friggin' scene! C'mon, how could Jordan pass up that golden opportunity?
Like I said, "The Informers" is bad news all around.