Even if you missed the credits, you’d be able to tell almost the instant it started that The Informers is based on a book by Bret Easton Ellis. Like nearly everything the trendy, Reagan-era chronicler wrote (Less Than Zero, American Psycho, The Rules of Attraction, Glamorama), The Informers focuses on a group of wealthy young people who do a lot of drugs and have sex with one another in various gender combinations, all to the tune of Wang Chung. In between hedonistic bouts, they mope around, consumed with the ennui of fabulousness. It’s like “The Hills,” only with more nudity. And given that we now have “The Hills” (plus other simpatico reality shows like “Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County,” “The Real Housewives of Orange County,” “My Super Sweet 16,” “Keeping Up with the Kardashians”—not to mention Paris Hilton in all her public iterations), it makes one wonder just what purpose Ellis’ work serves in this day and age.
The Informers is a multistranded narrative. (Think Robert Altman if you’re older, Magnolia if you’ve been around for a few years or Crash if your attention span doesn’t predate the turn of this century.) Primarily, we’ve got a bunch of attractive, blond and mostly interchangeable leads (Jon Foster, Amber Heard, Lou Taylor Pucci and Austin Nichols). Inhabiting the marginally more interesting background are various parents and paternal figures. Billy Bob Thornton is a selfish movie studio exec who’s having an affair with a conflicted TV newscaster (Winona Ryder) yet can’t bring himself to divorce his brittle, pill-popping wife (Kim Basinger). Mickey Rourke drops by to play the seedy, scheming uncle of a sad-sack hotel clerk (Brad Renfro). Brit thesp Mel Raido drifts through occasionally as a mondo-depresso rock star named Bryan Metro. (Any resemblance to Bryan Ferry is purely coincidental, I’m sure.) Chris Isaak makes a cameo as one of the kids’ drunk dad.
All in all, it’s an impressive-sounding cast list—especially for a $10 million Sundance film. But nobody gets to go anywhere or do much of anything. Thornton’s OK. But like all the other characters, he’s numb to any human sensation, so it’s a little hard to judge his acting skill here. Basinger is equally OK. Although she did a better job with a similar role in 2004’s The Door in the Floor. Ryder’s role is so brief and pointless it looks like most of it got edited for time. It’s good to see Rourke again after The Wrestler, but his character’s criminal subplot seems like it belongs in another movie entirely. What we’re left with, then, is a bunch of superficial Beverly Hills young people getting wasted, engaging in threesomes and looking like they’re the saddest club kids in all of creation.
Director Gregor Jordan (Buffalo Soldiers) manages to re-create those heady, high-flying “Miami Vice” days with a certain visual flair. The colors are neon-bright and most everybody looks like an extra in an a-ha video. The film is slick, all right—perfectly in keeping with Ellis’ worldview of pretty glass houses filled with emotionless, well-sculpted mannequins. Still, it’s hard to get a handle on a story that offers so little sympathy for its characters. The humorously unsubtle moral capper to it all (AIDS!) doesn’t exactly bring home the emotional groceries, either.
Thanks to rampant paparazzi journalism and endless celeb reality shows, we now live in an era of constant schadenfreude regarding our social and economic betters. Back in the ’80s, we fooled ourselves into thinking that movies stars (the Brat Pack!), rock musicians (Duran Duran!) and rich people (Donald Trump!) were awesome personified. Now we get to see them fighting with one another on “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.” Time-traveling back to the antediluvian age of MTV, The Informers hopes to deliver the very serious message that—believe it or not—it actually sucks being rich and beautiful. My response, then as now: Boo-frickin’-hoo.
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