Thanks to the success of such shows as The Blacklist and Boston Legal, James Spader’s innate charisma can easily travel to fever pitch levels (he was, of course, the voice of Ultron!). But Spader is more of a low key figure in the Los Angeles set thriller Bad Influence, which was recently released on Blu-ray via Shout! Factory. The film also features one of Rob Lowe’s best performances as a violent sociopath.
Michael Boll (Spader) is a semi-successful financial analyst whose career is at a standstill thanks to a more aggressive co-worker (Tony Maggio). His fiancee (Desperate Housewives’ Marcia Cross) also has him under her thumb, and though Michael’s white collar existence is following a predictably cushy linear path, he needs to proverbially shed some skin.
Though maybe a few stiff drinks to ease his nerves or a bit more assertive behavior could cure his problems, he finds an entirely new path with his new friend Alex (Rob Lowe). What Alex lacks in social graces he makes up with his poster boy good looks and stunningly candid approach. Alex’s seductive abilities also makes him the perfect wingman for Michael, and thanks to his new buddy our meek protagonist engages in a love affair with an alluring young woman (Lisa Zane).
Christian Clemenson co-stars as Michael’s constantly dependent and insecure brother Pismo, and his immediate disapproval of Alex has its merits. Thanks to his newfound confidence, Michael initially feels a sense of liberation with his job and his once constricting love life. While Michael may be just going through a phrase of cheap thrills, Alex is a man sans moral boundaries, and eventually their friendship leads to pure mayhem and murder!
Director Curtis Hanson’s evocation of a film noir draped Los Angeles was perfectly captured in L.A. Confidential, and he brings that visual knowledge of the City of Angels to Bad Influence. Whether it’s shooting in Pismo’s old-Hollywood style apartment complex (I’m guessing the exteriors were shot at some downtown Los Angeles locale) or the suffocating high rises off Miracle Mile (in a building that overlooks the La Brea Tar Pits), Hanson brings a knowledgeable visual palette to the proceedings.
The meat of Bad Influence, however, lies in the yin and yang interplay between Lowe and Spader, as their eventual chess game, along with screenwriter David Koepp’s pinpoint construction, drives the 99-minute thriller. There’s one tragic and violent twist that I didn’t see coming, and the story’s ability to delve into the darkest corners kept me intrigued up through the very end which, thankfully, didn’t wrap things up in a predictable fashion. Zane and Clemenson also infuse their respective characters with believability (it’s a wonder that Zane, who starred in Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare and the acclaimed yet short-lived show Profit didn’t have a bigger career).
There’s only one special feature on the Bad Influence Blu-ray, but it’s a good one. Screenwriter David Koepp, who’s arguably the most successful scribe in the business (Mission: Impossible, Spider-Man, and Jurassic Park are among his credits), gives a detailed discussion on how he approaches his craft. The talk also has him reflecting on his early days as a screenwriter in Culver City, Ca., as he’d bang away at his typewriter into the late stretches of the evening (his first script, which he wrote with Martin Donovan, was the 1988 feature Apartment Zero).
Screenwriting enthusiasts, writers, and movie buffs should definitely check out the Koepp interview, as he shares a few golden nuggets on the writing process (for example, don’t put camera angles in your screenplay unless you’re directing the script!). Though an audio commentary from Curtis Hanson or the Bad Influence ensemble would have been great, the Bad Influence Blu-ray is still worth a look!
***I’ll also be discussing my love for Bad Influence on next week’s CinemAddicts podcast. To enter our weekly giveaways, please rate and do a written review of our show on iTunes. Our latest episode is below: