Release Date(s)1990 (May 24, 2016)
Studio(s)Triumph Releasing Corp. (Shout! Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B+
An early gem by one of the greatest American directors of the last forty years gets the high-def treatment it deserves on Shout Factory’s new special edition of Curtis Hanson’s Bad Influence. A Hitchcockian thriller that both invites and earns comparison with the master’s finest work, it’s a razor-sharp, air-tight exercise in moral complexity and narrative tension that plays like a clinic in how to direct suspense. Working from an excellent early screenplay by David Koepp, the scribe who would adapt Jurassic Park and Carlito’s Way (among many other seminal works) just a few years later, Hanson fine-tunes the style toward which he had been working in earlier genre pieces like The Arousers and The Bedroom Window and delivers a minor classic – a riff on Strangers on a Train for the home video age that paved the way for Hanson’s next film, the darkly funny and exquisitely scary The Hand That Rocks the Cradle.
Taken together, The Bedroom Window (1987), Bad Influence (1990), and The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992) form a sort of trilogy of Hitchcock-inflected suspense pictures that honor that director and build on the traditions he established; once Hanson mastered those devices, he would go on to forge his own style and sensibility in a remarkable run of grand entertainments for thinking adult audiences: The River Wild, L.A. Confidential, Wonder Boys, and 8 Mile, just to name four. Bad Influence remains the richest of his early directorial efforts, thanks to a provocative premise that clearly ignited Hanson’s visual imagination. James Spader, hot off of sex, lies, and videotape, plays mild-mannered financial analyst Michael, who is heading into a marriage of which he is uncertain and faces trouble at work in the form of a ruthless rival who thinks nothing of playing dirty with Michael’s career. A chance meeting with Alex (Rob Lowe), a charming and mysterious stranger who exhibits all of the confidence Michael lacks, leads to a series of adventures that initially seem harmless but steadily grow more and more dangerous – until ultimately Michael realizes Alex is setting him up to take the fall for some pretty serious crimes.
To go into the plot in any more detail would be to rob the uninitiated viewer of Bad Influence’s greatest pleasure, which is the way that Hanson and Koepp take the audience in the palms of their hands and squeeze. Hanson is a master at manipulating point of view, so that as the film opens we share Michael’s attraction to Alex – and by the time we, like Michael – realize what we’re in for, we’re in too deep and Hanson is able to play our emotions like a piano, to paraphrase one of Hitchcock’s famous quotations. Smart, sexy, and funny in equal measures, Bad Influence plays on both Michael’s neuroses and the audience’s theoretically ambivalent feelings about sex, violence, and consumerism to create a spectacularly entertaining study in the transference of guilt and the dark side of desire – whether that desire be for women or consumer goods, both of which Hanson photographs with a simultaneous sense of beauty and ominousness.
It's a great movie, and a great looking movie – and it looks as good as it ever has on this new Blu-ray edition, which beautifully captures the dynamic contrasts of cinematographer Robert Elswit’s lighting and palette. He and Hanson create a kind of neo-noir that would prove highly influential on later films like Steven Soderbergh’s The Underneath; going in the opposite direction of the stark black and white of 1940s crime films, they pump up the vivid colors – yet also let images fall deep into darkness. All of it is flawlessly presented on Shout Factory’s Blu-ray, which also contains an excellent thirty-minute interview with Koepp in which he discusses his career in general and Bad Influence in particular. At the time of its release, Bad Influence’s pleasures were somewhat obscured in press coverage by the fact that Rob Lowe, whose character uses home video to diabolical ends in the film, was in the midst of a videotaped sex scandal of his own. Removed from that context, Bad Influence can be appreciated for what it is: a flawless genre movie in which two great filmmakers really begin to flex their creative muscles.
- Jim Hemphill