Bad Influence Review
When it was first released in 1990, Bad Influence was famous for all the wrong reasons. Its star, eighties heartthrob Rob Lowe was involved in a high-profile sex scandal involving a video of him in bed with two girls and here was a new Rob Lowe film in which he shared a bed with two women and videotaped a couple having sex. Quite a coincidence! There is the occasional steamy moment but Bad Influence is an adult thriller in the sense that it's intended for grown-ups and audiences looking for cheap thrills must have been disappointed.
The director was Curtis Hanson, who of course went on to win massive acclaim for LA Confidential. He started his career making little known exploitation pictures, such as the 1983 Tom Cruise comedy Losin' It, before graduating to Hitchcockian thrillers with The Bedroom Window. A smart, well-made piece of entertainment, it raised eyebrows for giving Steve Guttenberg a dramatic role but casting against the grain would become a trademark of Hanson's career, for example Meryl Streep's action role in The River Wild and Eminem's movie debut in 8 Mile.
Rob Lowe was also an off the wall choice for the part of a charming psychopath. Although he had worked with Coppola and Tony Richardson, he was best known for St Elmo's Fire and About Last Night and considered a teen idol rather than an actor. If it hadn't been for the unfortunate scandal, Bad Influence might have changed that because he's pretty damn good.
He plays Alex, a handsome drifter who saves timid yuppie Michael (James Spader) from a beating in a bar. The two become fast friends and soon Alex is living in Michael's apartment and inspiring him to take charge of his life by dumping his snooty fiancee and turning the tables on a conniving co-worker. But Alex's interpretation of "carpe diem" is more sinister than Robin Williams's in Dead Poets Society and leads to a violent, coke-fuelled rampage, after which a horrified Michael wants no more to do with his new friend. Then Alex turns really nasty.
Technically you could place Bad Influence in the cycle of early 90s "(fill in the blank) from hell" thrillers, the best friend from hell in this case, and it owes something to Hitchcock's Strangers On A Train, which was also about a weak man corrupted by a psychopath. However, this is more than a formula thriller or a Hitchcock knock-off. Writer David Koepp, who also scripted Carlito's Way and Jurassic Park, delivers a smart script based around interesting characters instead of relying on dumb twists and easy jolts while Curtis Hanson's direction is stylish, well-paced and drenches the film in sleek, late eighties decadence.
James Spader is perfect as Michael, a complex and not always admirable character who you can't imagine many stars wanting to play, while Rob Lowe has never been better as the malevolent Alex. Despite their efforts, the film is all but stolen by Christian Clemenson as Michael's loser brother Pismo, a performance so unique and funny that it's a wonder Clemenson hasn't had a more successful career.
This will probably be your first chance to see the full uncut version of the film, as it has always been censored in the UK. The BBFC's site lists cuts of 38 seconds in the cinema and one minute on video. No details are available but I'd bet my right arm the cuts were for imitable technique and were to a scene which demonstrates an alarmingly simple way of blowing up a car.
The disc is two-sided and you have a choice between an anamorphic widescreen transfer on one side or an adapted 4:3 full-screen version on the other which adds a little to the top and bottom of the picture but also crops from the sides. The widescreen version is terrific - the film may be 13 years old but MGM/UA have found an excellent print and transferred it well. Only the fashions and furnishings date it.
The English soundtrack is Dolby Surround, which is clear and does the job perfectly adequately. This is not a film that would benefit much from 5.1 or DTS.
There is one trailer which helpfully gives away the whole plot. The menus are static and there are 16 chapter stops.
Whether you're intrigued by the cast or director or just looking for a suspenseful thriller with a brain in its head, Bad Influence is well worth seeing and MGM/UA's impressive anamorphic transfer (and very reasonable price tag) should make it even more tempting.
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