“I want something,” says actor Jon Foster, as troubled 80s LA showbiz baby Graham in what is clearly meant as the Big Moment in The Informers, director Gregor Jordan’s adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ 1994 rip-off of Le Ronde. “I want somebody to tell me what’s good and what’s bad.” Well, let me be among the first to help you out, Graham: The movie you’re in is bad. Very, very bad. And though name actors and the involvement of a cult author may eventually get The Informers attention, there’s nobody who loves the ’80s enough to knowingly pay good money to suffer through all 98 minutes of this.
A slow, self-important exercise in aimless and dispirited debauchery reminiscent of Mark Kanievska’s failed movie version of Less Than Zero, The Informers squanders a solid cast (including Kim Basinger, Billy Bob Thornton, Rhys Ifans, Mickey Rourke and a criminally underutilized Winona Ryder) aiming at something akin to the moral grandeur of Hal Ashby’s masterpiece of LA ennui Shampoo. But The Informers gets a lot closer to the soul of ‘80s cultural driftwood like General Hospital, Knots Landing, Dynasty and other soap operas of the period built on slow boiling melodrama, hectic and disconnected plotting and a kind of middlebrow suburban disdain for anyone having better sex than the audience is.
Morally bankrupt 90210 archetypes deal drugs to each other, engage in joyless threesomes, smoke weed, rub cocaine on their gums and otherwise behave like hedonist puppets circa 1983. Kids with bad haircuts listen to ‘80s synth pop. Nubile young women (especially a nearly all-topless Amber Heard, whose stripper poll name will never serve her better) take off their clothes. Ronald Reagan appears on a TV screen. Then AIDS happens, just in time to provide Jordan (and Ellis, who co-wrote the screenplay) with what is clearly their Significant Metaphor for LA and by extension America itself: a bikini-wearing blonde with night sweats, dying on a beach in the sun. Hooboy.
Jordan has exactly two modes as a director: He creates music-based montages that are so akin to the grammar and pacing of ‘80s music clips it becomes confusing as to whether you’re watching The Informers or a music video within the movie; or he lets his actors stand around talking with such somnambulance it seems like they’re not so much performing as trying to remember their lines. This is clearly a choice. That irrepressible old veteran Billy Bob, as womanizing hack movie producer William, can actually be seen remembering to tone it down in the middle of one of his many aimless argument scenes with ex-wife Laura (Basinger), as if he’s been instructed not to be so damn alive up there.
None of the women in this picture come off well—they’re all shrews or harlots—and the period, while rendered accurately enough, is visually a bit thin. As a smalltime hood that used to work for William’s studio, Mickey Rourke does nothing to injure his big comeback in The Wrestler, probably because he has the wisdom to never take his sunglasses off even once. The best performance is turned in by croon-rocker Chris Isaac, which says a lot. As lively, roguish and alcoholic divorced dad Les Price, he is not only one of the few characters blessed by a last name, he’s also the only person in the movie allowed to simulate joie de vivre. As they seemingly must with every third character, Ellis and Jordan leave Les stranded on a beach, wondering what went wrong. Ellis and Jordan should be wondering the same thing.
Cast: Billy Bob Thornton, Kim Basinger, Mickey Rourke, Winona Ryder, Jon Foster and Amber Heard
Director: Gregor Jordan
Screenwriters: Bret Easton Ellis and Nicholas Jareki
Producer: Marco Weber
Rating: R for strong sexual content, nudity, drug use, pervasive language and some disturbing images.
Running time: 98 min.
Release date: April 24 ltd.