A personal list of films since 1977 will inevitably reflect some of the cultural and sociological concerns of the period. I beginning to realise that there is a risk that I will end up creating the canon of films critiquing the rise and fall of neo-liberalism. I have already included ENRON:THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE ROOM and there is a crop of ‘yuppie-under-threat’ films to come, which is an Anglo-American genre that is alive to the sublimated terror of capitalism: at their worst they can become a stalk-and-slash variation on a theme but at their best, and BAD INFLUENCE is a good example, they can be bitingly satirical as well as entertaining.
BAD INFLUENCE is a remarkable film for several reasons. It was the first script by David Keopp who would go on to be a ‘blockbuster Barton Fink’ by penning JURASSIC PARK (1993) and its first sequel, CARLITO’S WAY (1993), SPIDER-MAN (2002) and has also directed Ricky Gervais in GHOST TOWN (2008). He was also responsible for the screenplays to ANGELS AND DEMONS (2009) and MEN IN BLACK 3 (2012) so it isn’t all good. The director Curtis Hanson also went on to more financially successful achievements, most notably LA CONFIDENTIAL (1997), but this earlier film shows his interest in character and the tropes Hollywood movie-making, with a certain debt to Hitchcock.’s STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951).
It was also remarkable that it was the only film that brought together prominent brat-packers James Spader and Rob Lowe. Spader is Michael Boll, an LA trading analyst who is unhappy with his lot, compared to his drop-out brother, he seems to have it all, but he is disenchanted with office politics, his relationship with an attractive but shallow society woman and the drudgery of existence. Rob Lowe walks into his life as the charming, enigmatic Alex who steps in when Boll is threatened by a jealous boyfriend in an underground bar. He steadily wheedles his way into his life seeming to offer a way of escape with a series of thrilling events that throw all the pieces of Boll’s life into the air, to see were they land. He takes him on a spree that is at once exciting, yet chilling, and it steadily becomes apparent that the charming Alex is a socio-path who is picking Boll’s life apart piece-by-piece. The framing of the film seems to suggest that Michael, Alex and Pismo (his paranoid, doper brother) are aspects of the same character responding the economic conditions of late 80s America.
Like many films that were produced in the 80s, the film is beginning to look dated as the technology is located firmly in the past (Pismo gets excited at the sight of his brother’s camcorder), but its central message about the risks of society being in the thrall of risk-taking hedonists has never been truer.