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PARK CITY — Considering that none of Bret Easton Ellis’ controversial novels has ever been turned into a particularly successful movie, it’s amazing that filmmakers continue to find backers for adaptations of his work. Maybe Ellis’ portrayals of hedonistic, drug-addled party people strike a nerve with Hollywood hotshots. But they’re living in a very rarefied world. The latest Ellis adaptation, “The Informers” (based on his book from 1994), premiered at Sundance and will be released by new distributor Senator Films this spring. Despite some Oscar winners and nominees in the cast (including Billy Bob Thornton, Kim Basinger, and this year’s contender, Mickey Rourke), this latest Ellis opus will not win him any new converts.
The film, set in Los Angeles 1983, has the added disadvantage of being released at the worst possible time. With the country reeling from its worst financial crisis in decades, who will want to watch the shenanigans of a bunch of spoiled rich kids and their parents? Most of the characters are empty-headed narcissists feeling sorry for themselves in their mansions, swimming pools and posh hotel suites.
Director Gregor Jordan has said that he was inspired by Robert Altman’s “Short Cuts.” “Informers” is another panoramic look at Los Angeles, but without Altman’s or Raymond Carver’s piercing insight. Characters include a Hollywood producer (Thornton), his estranged wife (Basinger), their pampered children and entourage, a degenerate rock star (Mel Raido), a TV journalist (Winona Ryder) and, at the other end of the social spectrum, a desperate doorman (the late Brad Renfro) and his vicious surrogate father (Rourke).
In the large ensemble, two performances stand out. Basinger captures the loneliness of an abused Hollywood wife struggling for a shred of dignity. And Renfro is moving as a lost soul living on the fringes of the dream factory. Perhaps we respond to these two performers because they are playing the only characters with the slightest vestige of decency.
The actors who play the beautiful young swingers — Jon Foster, Amber Heard, Lou Taylor Pucci and others — have done fine work in other movies, but they are completely wasted in these vacuous roles. The film is well shot by Petra Korner, but it’s still one long wallow in sordidness. “Informers” is never erotic, rarely witty, and its survey of unbridled hedonism ultimately seems pointless. The film ends with a character dying of the newly identified AIDS virus, and perhaps it was meant as a cautionary tale. But it offers no lessons worth heeding.
Production: Senator Films
Cast: Billy Bob Thornton, Kim Basinger, Mickey Rourke, Winona Ryder, Brad Renfro, Mel Raido, Chris Isaak, Jon Foster, Amber Heard, Lou Taylor Pucci
Director: Gregor Jordan
Screenwriters: Bret Easton Ellis, Nicholas Jarecki
Based on the novel by: Bret Easton Ellis
Producer: Marco Weber
Executive producers: Bret Easton Ellis, Vanessa Coifman, Helge Sasse, Brian Young, Jere Hausfater, Nicholas Jarecki
Director of photography: Petra Korner
Production designer: Cecilia Montiel
Music: Christopher Young
Costume designer: Sophie De Rakoff
Editor: Robert Brakey
Rated R, 95 minutes
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