Bad Influence

The friend from heck
★★
☆☆
Released: 
1990
Director: 
Curtis Hanson
Starring: 
Rob Lowe, James Spader, Lisa Zane, Marcia Cross
The Setup: 
Guy befriends sociopath who nearly ruins his life.
Discussion: 

James Spader is a soulless 90s yuppie trying to move up in his trading firm. Rob Lowe is a sociopath who latches onto him and then doesn't want to be dropped. Even though people eventually die, it all seems pretty tepid and more like a mild inconvenience than anything, not helped by the fact that Spader doesn't have all that much to lose.

So up on my iTunes shuffle comes Lloyd Cole's "Downtown," which I knew was the featured single from this movie, and it piqued my interest in seeing this again. I had seen this back in the day, and been as underwhelmed as anyone, though it's still generally fun. Turns out, to my surprise, that this is written by David Koepp, and was apparently his first script, written on spec, before he went on to do Jurassic Park, Spider-Man and things like Carlito's Way. I was also surprised to learn that it's directed by Curtis Hanson, who was still doing pulp before he went on to L.A. Confidential and higher-level fare. This also occurred during the phase where James Spader was trying to find something to do after Sex, Lies and Videotape, and Rob Lowe was on his trend away from major movie roles.

We open with Lowe as Alex waking in the bed of some lovely lady. He steals many of her clothes and all of her pictures that have him in them, and takes off, dumping it all in a garbage truck. We now join Spader as Michael, investment banker who has discovered that the file for a big a count is missing, and he suspects sleazy rival Paterson. They are both locked in a race to make senior analyst, and the competition is getting ugly in a way that is sooooo early 90s. Kathleen Wilihoite, our favorite character actress from Witchboard and Color of Night, is Michael's secretary. Just as Michael is freaking about his lost file, his fiancée turns up in his office, and we can tell that he has misgivings about her.

So Michael is in a beachfront bar drinking away his sorrows when he almost gets in a fight with the local goon, and is suddenly saved by Lowe, who shows up and vanishes just as quickly. Michael then discovers his wallet missing. We see Michael's modern (for the 90s) glass brick apartment, and meet his brother, Pismo (yes, he is named Pismo), who is an unemployed pothead always sponging off him. Michael runs into Alex on the pier, and they head off to a nightclub which we can tell is not Michael's scene. We see that Alex adopts a different name with different people. Alex encourages Michael to break out of passive mode and start becoming a shark, which Michael puts into practice the next day as he steals one of Paterson's important files and demands his own back. This is in the early days of computerized offices where no one thought to just save a file on a disc where one's rivals couldn't get at it. Or to have a password. We also see a bunch of chunky early computers.

Alex takes Michael to a cool exclusive party, where he meets Claire, hottie. They go home and screw, and we soon learn that Alex has videotaped the affair. Michael has a camcorder, then seen as a useless extravagance, and about as big as a TV news camera. Alex presses Michael to tell him his fears, and he says he doesn't want to get married. Michael does a risky insider trade, encouraged by Alex, and when it works out he wants his secretary to call him "Mick." He has a party at his fiancées parents' house, where he is surprised to find Alex. Soon the entire family is gathered around the TV, where they are treated to the tape of Michael and Claire making the beast with two backs. Marriage over! He drives off with Alex, who asks "Forgive me?" and Michael responds "To hell with it--I OWE you."

They go off on a drinking spree and rob a hamburger stand at gunpoint. Michael then wants to rob a liquor store. Here's where we have our Lloyd Cole signature song, about a wish to corrupt another, and we know we're at the midpoint, where Michael goes too far and starts to want to pull things back. As they drive, Michael sees Paterson's neighborhood and wants to go back there. We skip to the next day, where Michael wakes with a bruised hand and blood on his sleeves. When he goes into work, he learns that Paterson has been badly beaten. Did he do it? He's more freaked than anything to learn that he is now senior analyst. He wanted that job, but--like this?

SPOILERS > > >
Michael goes home at lunch and tells Alex to get out. When he comes home that evening, all of his belongings are gone. Alex must have arranged a moving service fairly quickly. There's a video of Alex inviting Claire back into Michael's bedroom, and guess what's in Michael's bedroom? Claire's bludgeoned corpse. Michael can't call the police because it looks like he did it, so he calls his brother, who helps him dump the body in the La Brea tar pits. Next day police are pulling up the body, and Alex is there, obviously the one who tipped them off. The law is closing in on Michael--and now he needs to start playing hardball!

He gets a gun from a guard at work. He enlists his brother to go to the club where Alex always is and get an incriminating fingerprint off a bottle. Alex follows the brother home and tries to kill him. He also tries to blow Michael up, using the broken-tail-light-in-the-gas-tank trick, which I learned from this movie, but unfortunately have not yet been able to employ in my daily life. Michael finds Alex at some new woman's house, about to do the throwing-her-stuff-out prank, and they have a scuffle which ends up way out on the pier where they first met. I think you can see that it's come full circle, right? Michael teases a confession out of Alex, which the brother surreptitiously tapes on the gargantuan camcorder. Then Alex makes a move to attack, justifying Michael shooting him, because you know it's not enough for bad guys to go to jail, they have to DIE. They await the police with the camcorder inches away from the edge of the pier, making me tense that the doofus brother is going to accidentally kick it over. Let's be more careful with your only evidence, guys! The police come, the end.
< < < SPOILERS END

So it's not really bad, it's just tepid. It just never gets all that exciting. Not to be callous, but only one person dies. But that's not it, I think the issue is the direction. Even toward the end, when Alex is openly trying to kill Michael and his brother, it's just not all that exciting. Or tense. You know he's going to scrape out of it somehow, and the climax is relatively low-key.

And although Lowe is an inspired choice to play a sociopath, with his handsomeness, dimples and lunatic grin, he never has much of a plan except to mess things up for others. This is where I think maybe his little prank of stealing women's clothes is maybe a mistake to include, as it just makes him seem petty, looking to mess with things any way he can. He doesn't seem to have a goal, which means there's no stakes for him. Similarly, Michael doesn't have much to lose that we'll have much sympathy for... he might lose his cushy yuppie job which allows him to drive expensive sports cars, live in an upscale place, and buy high-end gadgets on a whim? And over the course of the movie his life is only improved. He gets out of the marriage he didn't want, and he gets his big promotion. Once he turns in the evidence that he didn't actually attack his rival, he's off scot-free and the promotion is his. Ka-CHING! Things worked out pretty well for him, ultimately. I'm trying to think what makes someone like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction seem really dangerous, where Alex here seems more like an inconvenience, and I think it's just that sense that Michael Douglas in that film had a lot to lose, that we could relate to: his family. Not his sports car.

Anyway, it passes 90 minutes in an amusing way and is decent enough, though not so much worth specially seeking out. It is very early 90s in fun way, with corporate greed and big hair and stuff like that, so if you're into that, you know... Otherwise no need to go looking for it.

Should you watch it: 

It's not that bad, but not that great.

Comments

Saw it
In theaters Tried to watch on tv and could not
Too sick for me. I have always hated Lowe since
That movie.