How am I ever going to make it to the end of Street Trash? One of those movies that was perfectly amusing and enjoyable, but since turning it off halfway through, like three weeks ago, I just haven't been able to get excited about watching the rest. And how am I ever to generate the wish to sit through the rich and heartwarming exploration of the tenuous ties that bind humankind that [supposedly] is Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring? How am I to do either of these things with the Demi-Moore-sexually-harasses-Michael-Douglas thriller Disclosure sitting on my desk? The fact is that there is no way.
We open with a title: Monday. Oh my God, it's just like The Shining. Michael Douglas as Tom gets an email [get ready for big chortles at the cutting-edge technology on display here], read by his daughter. I should probably go back and read it again as I'm sure it has to do with something, coming right up front here as it does [I did—nothing exciting]. Tom and his wife [a lawyer] seem to have a very passive-aggressive relationship, as she turns from snide bitching about how he's "sitting in New York with his secretary" while she's super-busy with errands, then suddenly, huskily says "Thanks for this morning," then angrily bitches some more about how he's getting this big new promotion, making this evidence for the cushy life he leads, more information on how very busy and harried she is, then closes off with a cheery and loving goodbye. For his part, he treats her like she's some sort of stranger throughout. They live in the typically fabulous home in Seattle, and Tom gets on the ferry to go to work—the very ferry I was on just three weeks ago, when I visited Seattle!
On the ferry is this guy that was just fired from his recent job, and he drones on and on, you know, the typical "one day you're on top…" kind of thing, while Tom tries to use his shoe-sized cell phone. I was absolutely sure that all his background talk of the turn-on-a-dime world of business would prove to be COMPLETELY unrelated to the plot, but then Tom was starting to get weird vibes about everything work-related, I began to wonder. Sure enough, no sooner has Tom walked into his ludicrously cool office in what looks like a renovated train station [all exposed brick and glass—not a private inch in the place] when weird intimations begin to come his way. But first he has stopped to take time out to leer at a woman's ass as she ascends a staircase wearing a short skirt. Eventually he corners his friend Dylan Baker as Phil who tells him that rumors are swirling that Tom is being passed over for the promotion, and may in fact be out of a job. We then have a short interlude where we see Phil talking to the president, Donald Sutherland as Bob, snickering about how Tom took it and how Phil really worked his whole "friend" angle. I suspect it'd be a good idea for us to remember that. So Tom is shitting a brick and when he goes up to see Bob, he finds Bob all chatty cathy with Meredith Johnson—that's right, Demi Moore—who is the one who's getting the promotion instead of Tom! She and Tom had an affair way back when, before he was married, and she makes no bones from their first sight of each other that she's been wanting some more of THAT.
Tom bitches at his team, which includes a bearded Dennis Miller doing his same old Dennis Miller schtick, and some woman for whom the phrase "all I know is that a woman can do twice the work of a man and still make half the pay" is just playful random banter. This is one of those movies written so that every tiny little thing somehow revolves around its theme. Somewhere in here Tom finds out that the microchips or whatever they have been using have a big-time flaw. Oh, and all of this is playing out against the high-stakes backdrop of this merger which will mean a hundred million dollars for them.
Then there's a big ceremony to introduce Meredith and talk about their product, where Tom meets an older woman, Stephanie, also passed over for promotion that morning. Meredith gets up and says that their product—all we can glean thus far is that it's something to do with virtual reality, a topic that was hot in '94—will succeed where religion and revolution have failed, and will offer "freedom from the physical world." I was kind of shocked that anyone would seriously say that any technology—let alone what turns out to be a very complicated version of Windows Explorer—had succeeded where religion and revolution have failed. But I guess it's true that religion and revolution HAVE markedly failed to locate computer files. After the event, Meredith is schmoozing everyone, and says she wants to reconnect with Tom, and maybe he could stop up to her office at seven. Meanwhile you at home may be having a little frustration because Tom is going around trying to figure out if he's going to be fired, or what his role is going to be, but he never comes out and asks anyone.
Blah, blah, so he finally goes up to see Meredith. Her office is all set up even though she has only arrived there that morning. She makes it clear that she couldn't give a shit about talking business, and it's immediately all about what hot sex they used to have and how he used to take her from behind in the shower and how he's probably not doing that stuff now that he's all old and married and boring. He asks if they can talk work, and she says she'll listen to his problems if he rubs her shoulders—and he falls for it! This guy is an idiot. She finally tells him to just bluff when people ask him about the faulty discs or whatever they are, just say he doesn't know. He goes downstairs and calls someone and all of a sudden Meredith is behind him and basically attacks him. She's all over him and he is wavering between being uncomfortable and getting really turned on, which is kind of hot. She goes down and gives him some forced oral which Tom is finding it hard to resist, although he has periods of shouting "Oh no! No! No!" Finally he goes over a sort of edge and turns her around, saying "You wanna get fucked? Is that what you want?" and they're about to achieve penetration when he sees himself reflected in a glass, and stops the whole thing. Meredith does not take this well, and runs after him screaming "You get back here and finish what you started or you're fucking dead!" We see that a cleaning lady has overheard this exchange. Tom goes home and gets right into the shower, asking his wife to "get me a beer." He then has a nightmare that Donald Sutherland French kisses him in the elevator!
So turns out that while he was in the shower Meredith called and told his wife that the big meeting they're having the next day has been moved to 8:30 from 8. Now, Tom has got to be pretty fuckin' dumb if he thinks that Meredith, who threatened to destroy him within the past hour, is gonna start making courtesy calls with helpful updates. But sadly, Tom is precisely that dumb. So the idiot strolls into work at 8:27, no tie on, and finds the meeting already way in progress and him looking like a tool. Meredith blames his wife for "not being able to take a fucking message." Then they have a meeting where the new clients are asking about the fucked-up drives and Tom is, on Meredith's advice, telling them he doesn't know a dern thing about nothin', even AFTER they reveal that Meredith has told them everything about how the drives are fucked up. This makes Tom look like a wedge—the simplest of tools*—and I say it's his own fuckin' fault! A few minutes later it is revealed that Meredith has said that Tom attacked her the night before and is pressing sexual harassment charges, and the company wants to relocate him to Austin quietly and not create a fuss.
SPOILERS > > >
So he decides to counter-sue and press his own charges, saying she harassed him. He gets a female lawyer who is supposed to be a horrible muckraker who will do anything for publicity, but turns out to be quite a sharp tack. She, of course, is clueless at first, and it takes Tom to figure on the exact perfect strategy to take in his own defense, that his lawyer never, ever thought of. Ah, it's just the way it is in movies. When he returns to the office he is getting what seem like harassing emails, and he can't tell who they're from. And what's he supposed to do—he certainly couldn't PRINT them, after all. He also discovers that his clearances in the system have been reduced to entry-level. Then we abruptly shift to a party in which someone is wondering if they should buy a "fat Barbie" for their pudgy daughter. Heh heh.
So then the whole thing is mentioned at dinner by Miller, who has some harsh words for Tom, because the upper management got to him and his job is on the line. Tom's wife, in her one nanosecond of coolness, bluffs that Tom told her everything and she stands completely behind him. I forgot to tell you that up until now Tom has been one of those guys—like his Fatal Attraction character—who want to get through life without telling anything to his wife. So then he spills some of the story—still making a frustratingly horrible case for himself and not divulging crucial details—and she gets furious. She tells him that she is harassed all the time, every day, why does he have to make such a big deal out of it?
So the next day at Tom's tribunal or whatever he describes their sex, and then when he's cross-examined it is revealed that he and Meredith used to have public sex, anal, and use toys! I KNOW that shit ain't happening with his new wife, who looks like she regards sex as second only to foot-binding. While the details are being divulged, we have several shots that could be subtitled "A wife's pain." We then have a discussion of whether oral sex is really sex, which actually PREDATES the whole Clinton scandal!
Okay, so you might have noticed that Douglas was on the phone when Meredith came on to him, and personally, I was watching that scene like "Hold on—did he ever hang up?" Well, that wasn't carelessness—it was a plot point! Because there's a tape out there with the whole event recorded! And after a ton of hugger-mugger, Tom finally gets it, and they play it [more "a wife's pain" shots] and then Demi has a whole big speech about how she's being demonized for being a powerful, sexually aggressive woman, and then suddenly the company wants to settle. They make an offer in which Tom essentially gets everything he wants, but for some arbitrary reason, the contract has to be signed by midnight. This is why I could never be a screenwriter: I just wouldn't have the confidence to make up these completely arbitrary rules that can generate 30 minutes of pointless plot. You will note that Tom says he'll sign the concession later [Yes, this thing that has been totally overwhelming his life for the past week, but now he's all casual about it]. Well, good thing, because we see that Sutherland and Baker are up to some sort of evil with it, all revealed a moment later when Tom just HAPPENS to wander by Meredith and Baker [as she's on the treadmill] as she is spilling out the nature of her nefarious plan. Then Tom goes straight over to this hotel, and now, ladies and gentlemen, is where this movie cocks back and shoots into the cheese stratosphere!
So for some reason known only to Jesus, some guy has the whole virtual reality system we saw earlier set up in HIS HOTEL ROOM. Tom easily breaks in [no prob!] and dons the suit, entering the space-age new system. Please recall Sutherland's comment earlier that the complete records of their company are in this system. You may have to pause your DVD to complete your initial laughing fit as we see Douglas in these ludicrous VR glasses [above]. Then this whole massive ornate temple CGI-builds itself around him [it's actually quite pretty]—the entire thing belied by the fact that this massive system is just a tremendously overblown file-search mechanism. It's clear that Sutherland and his company are the chumps, because they've been creating this massive VR temple just to find documents, when in reality a nice intuitive interface would have been keen and cost 1/356th the price. This, and points to come, are all part of a sequence that Roger Ebert accurately says: "Will have tech-heads rolling in the aisles." Only by now, ANYONE who has even glimpsed a personal computer in the last 20 years would know how off-the-chart ludicrous this is. Then! Douglas almost falls into a virtual-reality cavern! This is played to be a movie thrill, but—he's on a platform in a hotel room. WHAT is going to happen in he "falls in?" Oh dear. Blah, blah, blah, he's looking at all these files, while elsewhere Meredith logs into the system, and this avatar of her—far too ridiculous to be described [see below]—essentially jumps out at him. You may have to pause the movie [as I did] for another hysterical laughing fit. Meredith erases all the crucial files, which is visualized by her wielding this red lightsaber-style thing and vaporizing them. Can you imagine if you had to don this whole virtual reality thing and walk for miles in a digital mausoleum every time you wanted to clean out your sent mail folder? Anyway, the guys come up to their hotel room [it takes 30 minutes from lobby to room, by the way] and Tom has to make a quick escape.
Somehow the next day a fax that would reach from the Earth to the Moon has been received at Tom's office. This was back in the day when faxes came in on continuous, toilet-roll style reams of paper. These are all the documents that he somehow got before Meredith erased them of whatever—I wasn't paying much attention to details by this point.
So the next morning there's a huge shareholder meeting, and for some reason Meredith is GRILLING Tom on the very thing that he has all the evidence to slam her for. Why? Then he shows her up in several lies, and revealing that she is the one who made all the bad decisions that made all this disc drives all wonky. She gets up and delivers a huge speech before she's finally asked to leave the room—and ALL of this in front of the shareholders! Um, WHY are you guys totally attacking each other in front of the shareholders—and why are they applauding? I just don't get it.
Meredith gets one more scene in which she claims that she is the fall, uh, PERSON in this whole thing, because Sutherland and Baker were controlling it all along. Then Sutherland appoints Stephanie [remember her?] to the position, and Tom is second in command. Then Tom gets a nauseating email from his kids that says "Daddy, we miss you. –A Family." He smiles warmly, then vomits and head for the strip club.
< < < SPOILERS END
Oh dear, there's so much to say. The movie gets going like it's going to be a Fatal Attraction clone, like Meredith cannot believe that Tom dumped her way back when and is exclusively out for revenge because she's a clingy psycho wingnut. This would have been massively offensive, but it also would have made for a pretty compelling movie. As it is, I think Meredith should have been 10 times MORE psycho. BUT, then there's this whole thing about how all of this is being orchestrated by Sutherland and Baker, and there are several bits of evidence to this effect, and it seems to be really what's happening—which means that the MAIN plot here is never resolved. Maybe that's the point, that even with all this, it's still the woman that gets shafted. If so, it remains very blurry. In fact, what IS the point of this thing [aside, of course, to make money]? Apparently at the end of the novel, there was a short disclaimer saying that he reversed the genders as a way of bringing out the themes, because if it was a woman getting harassed it would just have been the same old story. Okay, MAYBE. But there is no such disclaimer on the movie, which makes the themes quite blurry and indistinct, and whole thing just come off as kind of opportunistic, exploitative and really callous. I would LOVE to know about all the little edits and script revisions that had to made to handle this touchy subject in a way they could even get away with releasing.
Now, a bunch of tidbits: First, it's a little [okay, massively] unfortunate that this movie has to try to be so on the forefront of emerging technology, because that means it is ludicrous by the time it is released [witness Ebert's review]. All of the email and stuff seen in here is just a hoot by this point. Secondly, we already know that Crichton loads his stories with enough techno-babble to reach a point in which the audience gives up trying to make sense of it anymore and will accept anything—which is an effective if inglorious strategy. But here there just seem too many blind narrative alleys [the unresolved Sutherland plot], too many things picked up and dropped, and too many incomprehensible motivations. For example, WHY does Sutherland and company want Tom out? Apparently he's been a model employee. And if they've known for weeks that they're going to force him out, why the whole fiction about promoting him? And why would they accomplish all this through sabotaging their own product? Maybe it all makes sense in the book, but I somehow doubt it. I think it's just trying to keep your mind busy so that one doesn't think too deeply about such things.
Regardless, I enjoyed the shit out of it! I was RIVETED. It has that perfect blend of genuinely involving and utterly ludicrous that is like crack to me. Plus it's got Demi Moore, hot-button contemporary issues ripped from yesteryear's headlines, hot non-consentual sex [is there any other kind of hot sex?], outdated "high tech," the Seattle ferry system, a mousy, nagging wife, and Demi Moore, as well as the additional pleasure of Demi Moore. It's also got Demi Moore. I could use about 15 more movies like this.
Yes! If you love the cheesy over-inflated high tension of these 90s thrillers, this one has it in spades!
*Thank you, Mr. DeLuca.