Less Than Zero (1987)

Marek Kanievska directs Andrew McCarthy, Jami Gertz and Robert Downey Jr. in this adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ debut novel where a rich kid returns to L.A. over Christmas and casually witnesses his school peers spiral into drugs, degradation and inhumanity…

Only here the vanilla Andrew McCarthy has been cast as the lead and he’s gonna force his friends to “JUST SAY NO!”. Ellis would become infamous for American Psycho and The Rules of Attraction but this is his best attack of writing. Brutal, nihilist and voyeuristic the novel passively flits between a group of unlikable peers as they fuck, snort and witness each other’s downfall to hell. Ominous, cool and genuinely disturbing, the book is a curious project for a major studio to get excited over. There is no hero, most of the violence is sexual, self inflicted or implied at a distance… everyone is bisexual or addicted or callous. Often all three. After 20th Century Fox bought the rights, the studio went through a couple of regime changes. By the time the finished product was released various executives had miscast it and warped the focus into an anti-drugs warning film. The irony of the most coke fuelled industry in its most coke fuelled era turning a seminal work into a crusade against their very own nose blast of choice. Gone is the nude 12 year old strapped to a bed. There’s no sense that a serial killer lurks just beyond pool lights of their mansion homes. Even the coyote makes it out unscathed.

Ellis has gone on record about the blatant miscasting of McCarthy and Getz. Poor Andrew is too suburban, too bland and too unpolished to be a rich kid who’ll dead eye watch his ‘friend’ pimp himself to travelling salesmen. He doesn’t have to be anyway in this version… the script warps his vacant crowd member into a romantic crusader, a saviour for his fallen pals. Getz is surprisingly quite good in the first half… unreadable and manipulative… often given to staring off in the middle distance a little too long after dialogue is finished. By the end she is just a trophy for the good guy to reclaim. She’s pouring a grand’s worth of primo gak down a nightclub sink within 24 hours of McCarthy’s white bread dick sandwich. No. No. No, no, no. Let’s not talk about the cautionary tale tragic ending!

Is it irredeemable? Not at all. RDJ, James Spader and Michael Bowen are all amazingly well cast as different shades of predatory scumbag. The future Iron Man seriously fucks up his life on the freebasin’ and the movie doesn’t shy away from that. He even has some hyperactive larks doing it before he’s forced into motel prostitution and looking like he has terminal flu. I’m not sure what is more terrifyingly accurate though… Spader’s slick hair or Bowen’s muscle? Either way you kinda wanna hang out with these hot tub baddies more, getting their spoilt harem of hooked billionaire babies to turn tricks. White slavers of the MacArthur Park nightclub scene. What a scheme!? What a plan! And the whole thing looks correct. Like a David Hockney painting fucked a Style Council promo. Wow. It looks sharp. Terrible adaptation, O.K. product of its time.

5

Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog https://cornsyrup.co.uk

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here https://letterboxd.com/bobbycarroll/list/the-worst-movies-we-own-podcast-ranking-and/

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