It’s hard to say what the new ensemble drama “The Informers” would have been like if it had been directed by its original director or if it had retained the vampire/zombie subplot from the book, but it couldn’t have been any worse than what it is now.
Adapted from a collection of semi-connected short stories from that master of 1980s-era excess Bret Easton Ellis (“American Psycho,” “Less Than Zero,” “The Rules of Attraction”), “The Informers” fails to develop one interesting character among the roughly 20 or so unhappy, self-loathing scenesters that populate the film. From the bleak and numbing tone of the movie, I am assuming we are supposed to believe that there is some kind of profound truth to be found amid all the pretty faces and general miserable-ness that’s on display here. Instead, “The Informers” becomes that rare movie that is so tedious it dares you to keep watching.
If you want to see how to adapt a collection of short stories into a cohesive unit, watch Robert Altman’s 1993 film “Short Cuts,” which is based on numerous stories by Raymond Carver. It’s even more of a feat how powerful and funny that movie is because the original stories aren’t even related.
Director Gregor Jordan took over “The Informers” from Nicholas Jarecki (who co-scripted the film with Ellis) and—according to news reports—changed the tone from lighthearted to deadly serious. In a controversial move, he also excised all of the supernatural content. There are plenty of vampires and zombies left in the movie, of course, only they aren’t literal. They are the dirty pretty things of early-80s Los Angeles. Jon Foster plays a rich, drug-dealing wastoid who wakes up each morning with either his hot, naked girlfriend or his hot, naked girlfriend and his music-video-directing-male-prostitute buddy. Does he want more out of his life? The answer for him is similar to the answer of that question for every other character: I guess so.
That phrase is very useful when talking about “The Informers,” actually. “I guess so.” Did it look good—was it shot with professional expertise? I guess so. Did the movie condemn the depraved, hollow existence of the urban elite? I guess so. Did it seem like half the movie was left on the cutting room floor? I guess so.
Billy Bob Thornton is Foster’s Dad, a sleazy Hollywood exec who’s cheating on his drugged-out wife (Kim Basinger) with a TV news anchor, played by Winona Ryder—who seems as if she’s in a different film altogether because she’s almost likeable, even though she’s barely in the movie at all. Mickey Rourke is lucky “The Wrestler” came out before “The Informers” could do any damage to his comeback because his role as the debauched kid-stealing uncle of a sweaty hotel clerk (the late Brad Renfro) is a real headscratcher.
There’s also a Bryan Ferry/Gary Numan-looking rock star who can’t tell what city he’s in and whose music is so awful that you don’t believe for a moment that anybody would come see him. This gets at the heart of what is wrong with “The Informers.” Characters don’t necessarily have to be nice for them to be characters that I care about (look at “The Sopranos”), but identifying with their desires and needs (or lack thereof) might be a start. Jordan keeps his characters at arms length—which is the same place where they keep each other. He gazes at all of his characters as if they were specimens trapped between glass slides.
If the vampire connection was metaphorical in the book, then so is the AIDS epidemic (which is so new it doesn’t have a name yet on the news) in the movie. Like everything else though, it’s so obvious that it becomes tedious. This group of soulless hedonists are all connected sexually one way or another and we can see the plague that will wipe them out coming way before they do. Is it poetic justice or hackneyed transparency?
In fact, the movie seems at times so devoid of any forward plot movement that it seems like there is no end in sight. When the end finally comes, it is completely arbitrary. The only thing that cued me into the fact that the film may be ending was the familiar wide-angle zoom-out to music.
With “American Psycho,” at least director Mary Harron found a way to take Ellis’ allegory over the top and have fun with it. That’s precisely what made it work as a film. “The Informers” just mopes around, wallowing in its misery and taking everything way too seriously.