Less Than Zero (1987) : Movie Review

Less Than Zero Poster

I love the first three novels Brett Easton Ellis wrote. I even like parts of fourth. Sadly, both his remaining books and almost all the films that have been made from his books, kind of suck the proverbial big one.

Less than Zero (1987) was the first film made from his debut novel and came out only two years after the original publication. Rick Rubin was the music supervisor and Thomas Numan did an amazing original score, which sadly fail to improve the film itself which unremittingly terrible.

Less Than Zero First Edition

Front Cover Of First Edition Photo Stolen From Web.

Andy McCarthy is ten shades of shite. He’s absolutely awful. Miscast and unable to act,  he really eviscerates the part of Clay. His character is always shrill and moralistically patronising. The whole point of the protaganist in the novel was that he wasn’t better or more virtuous than those surrounding him. He was just less antagonistic and more observant. He didn’t wish any one well. He just could be slightly less bothered than the person next to him to do someone else some harm.

Andrew McCarthy Can't Act

Andrew McCarthy Attempting To Emote… Or Take A Shit. It’s Hard To Tell ReallyScreenshot by author.

The characters as designed are meant to be mono syllabic and apathetic. Not verbose do gooders who moralise on drug use and try to do right by people. I am not sure whether the MPAA, the studio or the director chose to go down this path and whether it was for ratings, box office or sensibility it ultimately fails on all levels.

The only actor in this mess who seems to have read the book and actually comprehends it is James Spader. He is fantastic. He really understands the part and is by far the best thing in the film.

James Spader Can Act_1 James Spader Can Act_2 James Spader Can Act_3 James Spader Can Act_4

James SpaderScreenshots by author.

Robert Downey Jr – essentially being himself at the time – does capture what it is like to be fucked up and not give a shit.  Whether pulling a quick hit of crack in the shadows of a club, or rolling onto a cliff top at dawn with a Sol in his hand realising he may as well sleep here, ‘cause life is fucked and what’s the point, he captures an element of his character. Physically at least.

Robert Downey Jr On Tha Pipe_1

Robert Downey Jr On Tha Pipe_2 Robert Downey Jr On Tha Pipe_0 Robert Downey Jr On Tha Pipe_3 Robert Downey Jr On Tha Pipe_4

Mr “I’ve Got a Shotgun In My Mouth & I Like The Taste of Gunmetal”Screenshots by author

In the film Clay drives around L.A. looking for Julian – who has previously fucked his girlfriend no less – because he concerned about him.

Fuck My Friend

I Care Because You Don’tScreenshot By Author.

Whilst in the book Clay is vaguely aware Julian has problems, he isn’t either sober enough, or caring enough, to give enough of a shit to ever really look for him. However, the film desperately wants to have a moral core, a character that their predicted audience could supposedly identify with. It just makes the whole exercise seem trite. Clay in the film is a sanctimonious, pious Reagan era anti drugs speech in an ill fitting suit endlessly looking pained and delivering equally ill conceived moralistic speeches at those around him.

Finer Points Of Morality

Fuck YeahScreenshot By Author.

There’s a scene in the film, where both Clay and Blair spend an evening coaxing Julian out of an OD. Thomas Newman’s admittedly good music flares up at appropriate moments and the whole thing is rendered as one big ‘just say no’ commercial. In the book neither Clay nor Blair could give two shits whether he OD’s or not, and that’s the point.

Andrew McCarthy Oscar Performance

Andrew McCarthy Going For the 1988 Oscar. He Didn’t Get It  – Screenshot by author

All the characters in the book are just coasting. Apathetic, misanthropic and anaesthetised via huge volumes of blow and inherited money. They just don’t give a shit. These same characters go to university (Rules of Attraction), and then wind up in the workplace (Amercian Psycho) and their whole numb to life, rich as fuck, better than the next man philosophy essentially turns them into uncompassionate killers.

Palm Springs is used as some kind of grand denouement to climax the film, whilst in the book it was the place where Clay and Blair’s relationship slowly dies over the course of a two week holiday. In the script writer’s desperation to make a three act piece, they must’ve noticed the locations importance and decided that the place, not the gravitas, should be put in the last act.

In Palm Springs, Clay finds Julian tricking men for cash and is horrified and tries to convince him to go back to school. What the fuck? In the novel Clay is bisexual and would not have given two shits. At the end (SPOILER ALERT) Julian dies in a car almost exactly as Jeff Bridges did at the end of 1974’s Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. Cop out much?

Less Than Thunderbolt & Lightfoot

Significantly Less Than Thunderbolt & LightfootScreenshot by author.

This film is neutered and not worth any one’s time. I wish I had more hands, so I could give it four thumbs down. Fucking Booooo! Piece of shit! Do yourself a favour and watch Rules of Attraction (2002). That is a great film and the only movie that ever captured the essence of good era Brett Easton Ellis.

Corn 1 out of 5

Written and posted by Horatio Cornblower. Copyright 2016. All rights reserved.

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