I am probably one of about five people in the world who got this, but, in Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho there is a conversation that takes place in a video store relating to why the clerk should know who Jami Gertz is. Patrick Bateman mentions something about her being in a Diet Coke ad. Being an avid fan of Ellis, I know that American Psycho was written in about 1988. So, based on the fact that the adaptation of his 1985 novel Less Than Zero came out in 1987, I suppose he liked the film. I, on the other hand, did not.
I've seen better and I've seen worse, but, you know what, I think there are better ways to remember the 80s than watching Robert Downey Jr when he only acted like he was high, instead of actually being it. I know that the point of the book was to display the laisse-faire nihilism that is/was so characteristic of LA, and thus showing someone who played at being high and ended up being a regular customer of Betty Ford should be a touch of bittersweet irony, but its not.
Instead of a bittersweet irony, the film gets to be a real pain in the but. The novel was excellent, and the film does its job in the fact that it captured what was basically an unadaptable novel... or at least half of it. The novel Less Than Zero is written in very short bursts, each of them an image that all sums up to a very complete collage of a nihilistic culture of LA's youth. To be honest about the book, it has no plot, but only in a good way. In order to keep idiots occupied, the novel puts in a subplot of a romance between Clay (Andrew McCarthy), a Los Angelino gone East, and Blair (Jami Gertz), a coke-addicted fashion model. It also places in another subplot where Clay tries to save a washed-out Julian (Robert Downey Jr) from a drug dealer named Rip (James Spader) who is pimping Julian out to pay back his debt.
It is these two subplots that make up the whole of the movie Less than Zero, which paints the same picture that the book did but only in a very streamlined fashion. It basically glosses over the entire LA-sucks vibe that the book sent out and puts in a hip soundtrack in its place.
Less than Zero makes the mistake of targeting its target audience. Sure, movies like She's All That and the two Scream films have sucsessfully hit bullseyes on teeny-boppers while at the same time appealing to them, but Less than Zero spends most of its time just trying to be cool, something that the novel didn't really do.
The movie Less than Zero is populated with the brat pack members Andrew McCarthy, Robert Downey Jr, and James Spader as well as the pin-up girl Jami Gertz, who is surprisingly the only recognizable talent in the film -- the rest of the people just do a mediocre job. It spends all of its time doing what was so chic during the 80s that bothered me so much: making a point.
Part of the appeal of the book was that it was able to be essayistic in a very subversive manner. Ellis, the youngest author of literary merit and a student of our generation, has always been able to be very subversive in his attacks. His insults have a careful, quiet tone... the very key that he has always had to remaining hip while hating the hip. The movie doesn't try to conceal its anti-drugs message one bit (a message, mind you, that didn't appear much in the book). Coming out (or off) of it, I got the impression that I had just watched a long Regan-era anti-drugs campaign... and wanted to see a Cheech & Chong movie to make up for it.
As I said earlier, the film is mediocre. The cinematographer (Edward Lachman) should be praised with his adept ability to take in the club scene without a hitch: low light, high light, red light, blue light... he can handle it all. He also does what the script would not... depict the culture in a way that would target it.
Jami Gertz should be lauded for her performance as Blair, although the character does have its trite moments (thanks to the script, not to her). Aside from a brief stint on ER, I've never seen her so good.
Also, certain people should be shot for it. For one, David Ruben, for casting most of the people. For two, Thomas Newman, for turning out the decade's worst score, and Marek Kanievska, for giving us a movie that can be used in dungeons.
We should have smelled disaster with this movie. But, it's a little fun. We get to see the brat pack before they became regular customers at Betty Ford. We get to see Brad Pitt when he was only a cameo. We don't get to see much else.