Though it may seem like a lifetime ago, it’s only been 6 weeks since I started on my latest series of reviews. I am currently in the process of reviewing, in chronological order, 126 cinematic melodramas. I started with the 1927 classic Sunrise and now, 82 reviews later, I have finally reached the 1990s.
(Of course, when I started this series of reviews, I somehow managed to convince myself that it would only take me 3 weeks to review 126 films. Instead, it looks like it’s going to take two months. So, I was only off by 5 weeks.)
Let’s start the 90s by taking a quick look at a 1990 film called Bad Influence. I have to admit that, when I made out my list of films to review, Bad Influence was not even on my radar. I was planning on launching my look at the 90s with a review of Ghost. But then I saw The Avengers: Age of Ultron and I was so taken with James Spader’s performance as Ultron that I decided to add a few James Spader films to Embracing the Melodrama.
In Bad Influence, James Spader is cast somewhat against type. He plays Michael, who has a good job and is engaged to marry the wealthy and overbearing Ruth (who, I was surprised to learn from the end credits, was played by a pre-Desperate Housewives Marcia Cross). Michael should be happy but instead, he feels oddly dissatisfied with his life. He’s shy and meek and spends all of his time trying to do the right thing and conform to the petty demands of society.
One day, as he’s sitting in a bar, Michael makes the mistake of trying to flirt with a woman who is obviously having a bad day. When the woman’s boyfriend shows up, he tells Michael to leave. When Michael mutters that it’s a free country, the man responds by grabbing Michael. However, before the fight can go any further, handsome and charming Alex (played, somewhat inevitably, by Rob Lowe) pops up out of nowhere, smashes a bottle, and scares the man off.
Michael and Alex become fast friends, with Michael viewing the extroverted and confident Alex as being everything that he wants to be. (Meanwhile, Alex seems to appreciate the fact that Michael has money and a nice apartment.) Under the influence of Alex, Michael starts to stand up for himself and even manages to get a big promotion at work. At the same time, he also ends up cheating on his fiancée (while Alex films them) , helping Alex hold up a series of convenience stores, and beating up an obnoxious co-worker.
Ultimately, Bad Influence is a lot of sordid fun. It’s a bit like Fight Club, minus the satire and the big identity twist. (Michael and Alex are differently separate characters.) Director Curtis Hanson (who is perhaps best known for L.A. Confidential) brings a lot of style to the film’s tawdry fun and keeps the action moving quickly enough that you don’t have too much time to obsess over what doesn’t make sense.
Finally, James Spader and Rob Lowe are just a lot of fun to watch. Spader turns Michael into a sympathetic protagonist and Rob Lowe seems to be having a blast going full psycho in his role.
Bad Influence is a well-made B-movie and it’s a lot of fun. You can watch it below!