A couple months ago, I attempted to start a new feature here in the blog where I review titles from the VUDU streaming service that aren’t available on Blu-ray yet, as a complement to our “One from the Vault” feature that does the same for Netflix. The original intention was to write these about once a month, but then I got tied up in other things and missed December. With the start of the new year, let’s try to start this up again with a look at Rob Lowe’s notorious 1990 erotic thriller ‘Bad Influence’.
This selection came up after Mrs. Z finished reading Lowe’s new autobiography, upon which she asked if I had any of the actor’s movies in my vast film collection. Other than the small role he has in the ‘Austin Powers’ sequels, I don’t. Sorry, I’m not a ‘St. Elmo’s Fire‘ kind of guy. Fortunately, VUDU came to the rescue with ‘Bad Influence’. If I was going to rent any Rob Lowe movie, this would be the one.
Released not long after the back-to-back humiliations of Lowe’s Oscar telecast musical fiasco and his sex scandal, the studio tried to promote ‘Bad Influence’ as a comeback vehicle for the troubled actor. Unfortunately, the fallout from his personal life continued to overshadow any coverage of the film, which tended to focus on the fact that its plot features critical story points about a publicly-leaked sex tape and Lowe’s character engaged in a threesome with two women. He can laugh about it now, but at the time, this must have felt like really bad timing.
For all that, Lowe actually doesn’t even play the lead character in the film. That would be James Spader as Michael, a nerdy “analyst” of some sort who works for a big financial company. The details of his job are left hilariously vague. We’re told that he “pushes dollars” or something, and that he’s upset about not getting ahead in the company due to competition from a douchebag named Patterson. When he tries to hit on a woman at a bar, Michael gets called a “drip,” a description that he doesn’t put up much resistance against.
Enter Lowe as a charming hustler named Alex. Or maybe it’s Tony. Or, depending on whom you ask, possibly Francois. Alex insinuates himself into Michael’s life quickly by taking him out to underground clubs and teaching him how to pick up women. At first, Michael’s new friend seems to help him develop some much needed backbone and confidence. However, before long, this bad influence lures Michael into a life of debauchery, where he cheats on his fiancée (‘Desperate Housewives’ star Marcia Cross, very young here), does some blow, makes unethical transactions at work, robs a liquor store, and assaults Patterson. In no time at all, his engagement is wrecked, and Alex leaves a dead floozy in Michael’s apartment, pinning the murder on him. “Get in bed with the devil, sooner or later you have to fuck.”
The movie was directed by Curtis Hanson, who would later go on to bigger things with ‘L.A. Confidential‘, but at this point was best known as the director of the early Tom Cruise sex comedy ‘Losin’ It’. It was also the first screenplay by David Koepp, future scribe of numerous blockbusters such as ‘Jurassic Park’, ‘Mission: Impossible’, and ‘Spider-Man’. Perhaps you’ve heard of some of those? David Duchovy is listed in the end credits for what is a literally two-second appearance as an extra in the background of an early bar scene.
The promotional materials like to throw out words like “Hitchcockian” and “film noir,” but those are very generous descriptions indeed. This is basically a B-movie thriller, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Hanson’s direction is slick and assured, and the performances are good. Lowe makes an effectively smarmy villain. Although released in 1990, this is clearly an ’80s production. Looking back, the fashions and the set designs are pretty amusing. The film takes a formulaic turn into a conventional revenge thriller at the end, but it has one really suspenseful and blackly-comic scene where Michael and his incompetent brother try to haul the dead body through a parking garage to dispose of it.
I wish I could say that VUDU’s 1080p HDX streaming version makes a good substitute for a Blu-ray, but it’s clearly sourced from a very old transfer. The movie looks rather drab, and has recurring problems with dirt on the film elements. Some nasty edge enhancement is very distracting at the beginning. That tones down after a while, but the picture looks like very “processed” and soft throughout. The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo soundtrack has one decent gunshot, and music sounds OK, but is otherwise undistinguished. The movie needs a new remaster. Netflix also offers the movie for HD streaming. I assume that version comes from the same source and will look either the same or worse.
Would I buy ‘Bad Influence’ if it were released on Blu-ray? Maybe not, but it’s a fun rental that deserves a better presentation than this.