Color of Night

Check the dental records
★★★
☆☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1994
Director: 
Richard Rush
Starring: 
Bruce Willis, Jane March, Ruben Blades, Lesley Ann Warren, Scott Baklula
The Setup: 
Troubled psychologist takes over a therapy group—that may include a KILLER!
Discussion: 

A considerate reader wrote to recommend this to me, saying it is “the Mommie Dearest of the 90s,” and uncomprehending of how this didn’t enjoy a better reputation as an enjoyably awful movie. I had actually seen this soon after it came out, mildly curious, especially based on the hot sex scenes it was supposed to have. Plus the deliciously sensationalistic tagline: TWO LOVERS. ONE KILLER. Re-watching it, I could not believe that, young and naïve as I may have been, I didn’t recognize even then that this is off-the-chart bizarre, horrible, transfixing and hilarious.

Ok, here’s the deal: Richard Rush started out making bikerspoitation flicks, made Freebie and The Bean, then made the super-artsy and acclaimed post-modern Hollywood satire The Stunt Man, for which he was nominated for best director. Fourteen years passed before he made another film, and THIS is that film. While the credits play we start to notice that we have a rather incredible cast of B and character actors; Lesley Ann Warren, Scott Bakula, Brad Dourif, Ruben Blades, Lance Heinriksen, Eriq LaSalle and Kathleen Wilhoite. Kathleen is up first as she rages around her apartment looking for something, then starts smearing lipstick all over her lower face. Then takes a gun and put it in her mouth. Then starts FELLATIATING the gun. Ladies and gentlemen, you are only TWO MINUTES into Color of Night.

Abruptly she is in an office with Bruce Willis—younger and hotter but with considerably less acting ability—having therapy. She tells him he’s just like her ex-husband—only seeing things in black and white until he goes colorblind. He offers a harsh assessment of her, then asks her to look in the mirror. She says she is, but is actually looking out the window, and although Willis is looking right at her, he doesn’t find this odd. Now Bill [that’s Willis] is one of these movie therapists that has a massive, opulently-appointed office with huge half-circle windows [in the 90s everyone in New York had huge half-circle windows] and a huge arched window on the opposite wall. Bill realizes too late—and Kathleen rushes to the window and crashes through it! We then have the reasonably spectacular fall of a dummy from a tall skyscraper down to the street, where she splats on the pavement. Check out the amazing GLASS STREET they have constructed to look up from beneath her body. We then hear Bill telling his Dennis Farina-clone mentor-guy that as he looked down on the body, the red of the blood became gray—he went colorblind! The GREEN of the dress also made quite an impression. But being a psychologist and having an obvious psychosomatic colorblindness isn’t cool. “To deny red is to deny emotion,” his buddy says [what does it mean if you deny teal?] so he’s going to go to L.A. to catch some rays, chill out for a while and look at where his mentals at.

He arrives and goes to the office of his fellow psychologist, Scott Bakula as Bob, who has a group readying for therapy in his well-appointed skyscraper office. Bill arrives—fresh from his long flight from the East Coast—and Bob forces him to come in and join the group! This group soon proves to be QUITE a cast of characters. You have Lesley Ann Warren as Sondra, a sexual compulsive who first appears wearing this INSANE white dress with an emerald GREEN top and brilliant RED lower trim. Why—the same colors that bothered Bill so much when Kathleen killed herself! There’s Brad Dourif as Clark, a man with severe obsessive-compulsive disorder, and Lance Henriksen as Buck, who blurts “The name’s Buck!” rather inappropriately, then says nothing. We have Kevin J. O’Connor as snide artist Casey, and troubled teen boy Ritchie, who looks like the lead character from The Dark Crystal in Coke-bottle glasses. Ritchie is said to have a gender-awareness problem [he can’t tell men from women?], and also has a terrible stutter, which leads him to FLY across the room to physically attack Casey when made fun of. There’s also a confrontation when Casey and Buck [The name’s BUCK!”] smoke in group, driving Clark to the brink of insanity. And the group HASN’T EVEN STARTED YET. These are the INTRODUCTIONS.

If you know a therapist or have ever been in therapy yourself, you will know that these people left “over-the-top” 37 floors down, and are headed toward the Insanity Penthouse. Also calling itself out for special derision is the film’s apparent hatred and ignorance of psychology. Before leaving New York, Bill says he is beginning to doubt “the scripture,” i.e. established psychological literature, as he finds it to have no bearing on what he’s actually going through. He later gestures to an edition of Freud and makes a “jerk off” motion. This wouldn’t be as bad if the rest of the film weren’t rife with total inaccuracies and exaggerations about the lifestyle and lives of most psychologists, and the kicker, when Bill says that his perspective is “Behaviorist,” and that he’s a “Psychoanalyst.” If you’ve read even one basic psychology book—I learned this in 10th grade—you will know that Behaviorist and Psychoanalyst refer to two diametrically opposed schools of thought. Psychoanalyst specifically refers to Freudian therapy that holds childhood experiences responsible for adulthood issues, and talk therapy as the only solution. Behaviorism is based on B.F. Skinner, who believed that our lives are ruled by learned responses to pleasant or unpleasant stimuli, and the way to solve them is to apply the right stimuli. But despite all the anti-intellectual scorn the movie tries to throw on psychology, guess what, screenwriter Billy Ray? The fact that YOU are an IGNORANT FUCK actually doesn’t say anything about the field of psychology.

So after the group breaks up Clark informs Bill of Bob’s bestseller, Way To Go. Bill piles into Bob’s hot convertible [these are HOT psychologists… I don’t know, maybe in L.A.] when they discuss the group, using Bill’s “tuning fork” for identifying psychological issues. Bill thinks Ritchie is a little violent mine waiting to go off. Then they get home, where Bill can’t believe how rich Bob is and what an expensive home he has. Okay, um… have you guys met before? These guys are supposedly good friends, but Bill had no idea that Bob had published a book [wouldn’t you let your friends know that you had published a book?] and that it had been wildly successful [doesn’t follow his own field much, does he?] and that his friend is now rich? Another character later says that they’re “best friends.” Well, best friends that don’t keep in touch very often, I guess.

The next day our hot psychologist hardbodies decide to go out for a vigorous bike ride. They’re on their way out when there’s some discussion meant to make us feel that they’re competitive with each other [is that why they haven’t spoken in several years?] and Bob says “”Why don’t we just drop our pants and see who’s got the bigger dick, then go back and have a civilized breakfast?” and I’m like YES, WHY DON’T YOU? At last, a voice for diplomacy. I will valiantly offer myself as an official at these penile-length summits, at great personal sacrifice to myself, and hereby vow to check and re-check as necessary until we get the correct information—to the last millimeter, if need be. Okay—obviously I could go on like this forever. I will only add that I would be happy to perform said functions not just before breakfast, but before any major meal or incidental snack. So they go ride, and at a certain point Bob says that he’s been getting threats, which he thinks emanate from someone in the group, which is why he insisted that Bill with his “tuning fork” sit in. This is why he has such security in his house, although when Bill out of the blue asks “What are you afraid of?” I thought this was more penetrating psychobabble like the movie is peppered with. So eventually they arrive back at the house, where we see that Bob is going to get a jump on this whole cock-measuring stuff—and invite the public in on his fun—as his cock is clearly highlighted by a gentle white dusting on his black lycra pants. Not like “you can make it out” highlighted, like “you can CLEARLY see it” highlighted. Like it was either a TOTAL accident and they didn’t have money to go back and fix it, or it was purposeful. Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, I submit to you exhibits 7 and 7a:

SPOILERS > > >
Okay, clear your head of all that hot dusty Bakula cock and let’s proceed. Bob is working late one night at the office, and for some reason—that I suspect will be VERY important to the plot later—he decides to take his notebook and put it in the dust jacket of a Van Gogh art book [that it just happens to precisely fit] and places it back on the shelf. Then—what’s that noise? He goes around the corner and suddenly this figure in this oversized black rubber hoodie [WTF—I know, but that’s what it looks like] comes out and stabs him repeatedly. It seems that the killer has fashioned this instrument that is like a brass knuckles with a knife on it, allowing them to stab as they punch. The whole murder sequence is incredibly overdone and well, kind of awful.

So now Bill is brought into the police station, which has all these high indoor arches with white curved windowpanes and it’s like… the police station is in a bridal facility? They have wedding receptions and flower shows there on weekends or something? This scene introduces the wonder of Panamanian musician Ruben Blades as Hector, who, as other film critics are fond of saying, “seems like the one person who is in on the joke.” Blades pitches his performance to the rafters and I found him to be absolutely hilarious. He is this very flamboyant [not in a gay sense] Latino cop who keeps prodding Bill to do stuff—like take over leadership of Bob’s group, which Bill tries to sell us is quite common in the world of psychology. Hmmm, YEAH, and I really believe that, too. Or if he can’t, maybe Bob’s mom can take it over. I’m going to keep you in suspense about whether or not Bill agrees, because I’m sure you’ll NEVER guess!

The next day Bill is driving along screaming at someone on the phone [Who? Why is this psychologist screaming?] when suddenly Jane March rear-ends him. Jane March played the young girl in my one-time favorite film The Lover, where her odd looks and odd acting worked with the character. Here, um, she’s sort of like watching a chipmunk trained to mimic human speech. And I say that in a loving way. There’s just something VERY odd about her. She’s not particularly sexy, I think she just got that rep for doing The Lover, and she’s not really that pretty. And please, don’t get too close, lest you rend yourself on her razor-sharp teeth! Yes, Jane has, well, really DISTINCTIVE teeth that, at several points, look like they could take a hole out of your neck with one swift bite. Let’s just say: not exactly a blow job mouth. Anyway, she gets Bill’s address and promises to bring him her info.

So Bill goes to the group, where he lays on all of them that Bob is dead. This is where Sondra starts screaming about how Bill was Bob’s “best friend.” Anyway, he asks them if they want him to take over the group, introducing the topic by saying “For one reason or other I’m even more screwed up than you people are.” Okay—can you imagine ANY psychologist saying that? “Screwed up?” “You people?” It’s fucking amazing. Of course he takes over the group. Then he goes home and there’s something weird about the house. He walks around and slips—the whole place is flooded with water. He creeps around till he finds a hose outside on full blast, its water going right inside. He treats this as though it’s perfectly normal and sets about drying things. God, I just hate those hoses that spontaneously turn on and flood your house all by themselves, don’t you? SUCH a pain! WHY can’t they make a hose that just stays off and wound in its place? GOD!

So he’s drying the dishtowels of whatever, putting absolutely no more thought into how the house flooded—I guess it’s just those all-too-common rogue hoses—when suddenly Rose shows up at his house. Notice how her shots have a filter causing all the lights behind her to become what can only be described as “dazzlights.” As he stares at her he says aloud “Here she comes… floating on the head of a pin.” He says “I’m all wet,” and she says “You too?” Then she suggests that they go out to dinner, which they do. At dinner he tells her all what a fuck-up he is, as they talk this ridiculous blend of psychobabble and supposedly “hot” dialogue that is just… REALLY bizarre dialogue. I couldn’t pull out one example, as it’s more the accumulation of statements that just don’t make a lick of sense that is the issue here. Now, Rush has been showing us throughout that he just LOVES him some split-diopter shots—those are the ones where an extreme foreground and background are simultaneously in focus—and many of his shots are very self-consciously constructed, such as the one you see below. I’m all for directors going all artsy, when it works. Unfortunately, in this case, it looks like she’s behind him, and talking to his back. They go outside to the valet and while they wait he suddenly grabs her and they go at it behind this pillar. Then she rushes off in a cab, despite his entreaties to stay with him, and refuses to leave her phone number or any contact information. This is supposed to seem all mysterious and alluring, but it really just comes off as bizarre, and if Bill can’t see that she’s a serious nut, he’s… well, we already know that he’s a terrible psychologist.

Then Dale, Ritchie’s brother, shows up to ask that Ritchie be taken out of therapy, his argument being that since Ritchie has been a ward of the state and in therapy for so long, it’s actually the therapy that’s making him a nutcase. Then Willis gets the old rattlesnake in the mailbox treatment [which by the way never emerges to be tied into ANYTHING], and soon after Rose shows up again, causing Bill to again say aloud “Here she comes, weightless…” This guy is really into short little soliloquies. They have their big sex scene in the pool, in which Willis’ faccid wang is briefly glimpsed. The scene goes on forever, and is supposed to be hot and scandalous, which essentially means that pubes are visible. Kind of made me think, though: Does it REALLY sound fun to have sex underwater? Anyway, they do it in every possible location and position, take time out for a short dinner [scene lasts 30 seconds] wherein they start fucking AGAIN! But it doesn’t have the sense of “Oh boy, they just can’t stop,” it has the sense of “More?! This AGAIN?” and seems like a serious editing misjudgment. By the way, Rose makes a steak for dinner with a side salad that contains five rigatoni noodles, which yes, does look like something you’d get at Olive Garden, but just makes me think, at home, is it really practical to specially make 10 noodles just for a silly garnish? I know—I’m not supposed to think about these things.

So the next day, Bill goes to look for Ritchie, while Sondra comes home from shopping with her buddy Bonnie! Sondra’s face falls while Bonnie is turned away, which looked to me like she was deeply depressed with the emptiness of her life, but apparently she’s finding herself sexually attracted to Bonnie. You’re looking at Bonnie like “Who is this chick?” when suddenly you notice: THE TEETH. The unmistakable teeth of Jane March. Then it turns out Bill is showing up, and Bonnie has to get out of there quick, lest he recognize her. Anyway, he tries to probe Sondra about Ritchie, who she supposedly has a close, motherly relationship, although we would have had no indication of that from the film.

So Bill hears somewhere that Ritchie was traumatized by his experience with a Dr. Niedelmeyer, so he goes to his house and finds that he’s dead, but his wife [who is not inclined to talk] says he suffered very much before he died and drops the bomb [or it would be a bomb if anyone cared] that Ritchie is DEAD! DEAD I TELL YOU! So then Bill has a group, where he learns that each of his patients has an exciting new woman in their life. But are any red flags raised for him about this? No—because he’s an idiot. Then Bruce is on the highway when he gets a duck-voiced crank call—and ANY time someone is getting a duck-voiced crank call you've got cinema gold.

Turns out the call comes from the red car—but he can’t tell which one it is! Until it tries to run him off the road, and he has to dodge falling cars. I confess I’ve finished the movie and still have no idea who was driving this car, or what this whole scene had to do with anything, aside from upping the “action” quotient.

When Bill gets home he finds that Rose has broken in and is making an elaborate dinner. She is wearing only an apron with nothing underneath. It becomes obvious that he is less than thrilled about this, but tells her it’s just because he’s worried about her—there’s a murderer on the loose!—and not because of the whole creepy breaking-and-entering, home-invasion angle. I think they’re going to need better communication if they’re going to make this relationship work. Speaking of Bill’s lack of psychological skills, you’ll notice that the therapeutic “help” he offers to most of his patients revolves around telling them to “hang in there.” Which is great—but at $150 an hour?

Okay, we’re going to have to pick this up here, mostly because I cannot believe I am still somehow talking about this movie.

After a bunch more Sondra reveals that she borrowed the Van Gogh book, and discovered that it contained Bob’s notes. In this book, Bill finds a picture of Rose. Only this picture is not the randomly-taken snapshot—it’s the picture below. What the fuck is Rose doing taking pictures like that? Did she go to the mall to get some erotic photography done? Or is it just director Rush trying to be artsy again? Anyway, Bill passes it around, and everyone recognizes that their new friend is all the same person. Then there’s another whole chase where the red car tries to kill Bill, and I didn’t quite get this [because, truth be told, I was nodding off and didn’t care to go back], but Roger Ebert complains about this a lot in his review, because there are several shots—like the red car pushing a car off a parking structure to land on Bill below—where it would be physically impossible for the person in the red car to see where Bill is. Anyway, Bill goes back to Neidelmeier’s, and forces his way in, where he finds out the secret: As you know, Ritchie is dead. He killed himself because Dr. Neidelmeier was fucking him! And he is survived by his brother Dale… and his sister ROSE. STOP—the shock is too much.

So Bill hot-foots it over to Dale’s shop, which he has visited before [I didn’t tell you], and which features a big smokestack that, when I first saw it, made me say “Oh, ten bucks says the climax happens up there.” He finds Ritchie inside, and pulls off his glasses and wig to reveal Rose beneath. I’m sure there was one or two people in the world who found this reveal to be totally shocking and unexpected. You see, her seducing Bill and everyone else in his group was just a CRY FOR HELP. This leads to this whole confrontation with Dale, who wields a nail gun [several people are nailed to the wall, which is always a recipe for fun], and sure enough, Bill and Rose end up atop the big smokestack. It all ends with the de rigueur she-falls-and-he-barely-catches-her thing, and they hold each other—Bill having realized that Rose is the love of his life, despite the fact that she is clearly severely psychologically damaged for life [not to mention the orthidonture bills she’ll incur]—and guess what? His ability to see red returns! Just like that! I guess it’s just the healing power of love.

And finally, a little gift from the Gods—a THEME SONG, “The Color of the Night,” performed by Lauren Christy [who?]. We also have the trailer, which is one of those things from the time when every few seconds the screen would be filled with words like: PASSION! DECEPTION! SEDUCTION! OBSESSION!

Before we leave the spoilers, we have to comment on Jane March playing this boy. It can be one of the pleasure of the film if you know from the start, as his every appearance is kind of hilarious, and even more so if you know it’s poor, unarmed Jane March trying to do her best to act. Again, you can tell by the teeth. Check the dental records! What is even more delicious is that not only is poor, dim Jane Marrch required to play a boy, already way out of her depth, but she has to be a boy who STUTTERS. It seems from the IMDb that most people figure out who she is from the start—and as Ebert says, everyone in a screenplay is there for a reason, and as the movie gives no reason for Rose’s appearance, you have to figure she’s involved in some way—but if you don’t figure it out, Ritchie comes off as QUITE odd. Like having Muppet in the middle of the movie you’re trying to pass off as human. OH—and I love the whole concept that Rose is supposedly this expert in theatrical makeup, that she can make herself up to look like a boy with such skill that people can be right next to her and now tell? It’s all too amazing.
< < < SPOILERS END

There is so much wrong with this movie, so much that just clangs hard, so much ten miles over the top, that by the end of the first hour it has all just toppled in on itself and, if you can believe this, becomes BORING. It just wears you down—it’s relentless. You could mitigate this by having some friends on hand and drinking. Even so—this movie is two hours and twenty minutes! But that’s the director’s cut—which implies that director Rush SAW this and what we’re watching is his vision of how it was SUPPOSED to come out.

It’s one of those situations in which you have to wonder what the story behind this movie is—how did it end up this way? Which is the sort of thing you used to be able to find on Wikipedia, before they decided they had to be respectable and thus became totally boring and invalidated its own reason for being. Richard Rush is obviously a smart person, but may be one of those people that is a little TOO smart for Hollywood. What’s the story between the 14-year hiatus from filmmaking? I’ve heard Rush got badly burned by Hollywood with The Stunt Man [there’s even a whole documentary about it], maybe he didn’t want to make another film but what out of money? Maybe he thought all of this made sense to him, or he thought he could just make the movie well enough so that it would work? We’ll never know.

Anyway, I think everyone should see at least a part of this, but if it starts to get boring, just turn it off and return it—it’s just more of the same. It seems this would be a lot easier to get through with friends present. It puts one in mind of how even bad movies still need to be entertaining… there’s nothing worse than a bad movie so relentless you just want to stop watching. And this one—wow.

Should you watch it: 

I would definitely watch at least part of it. Get some friends and lots of booze.