The Locust Doppleganger.
Bad Influence is directed by Curtis Hanson and written by David Koepp. It stars Rob Lowe, James Spader, Lisa Zane and Christian Clemenson. Music is by Trevor Jones and cinematography by Robert Elswit.
Michael Boll (Spader) is the ultimate milquetoast. Alex (Lowe) is something altogether different. When Alex introduces himself into Michael's life, Michael finds from within a boldness he didn't know existed. But Alex's life lessons may just come at a cost.....
Tell me what you want more than anything else in the world.
The 90s began in a neo-norish haze for one time brat-packers Spader and Lowe. For Spader it was another chance to show, after 1989's Sex, Lies and Videotape, that he could do drama very well. For Lowe it was a case of dusting off his off screen misdemeanours to self mockingly portray the bad boy playing the bad boy. With future L.A. Confidential helmer Hanson in the chair overseeing things, Bad Influence rounded out as a sneaky bit of grit. It didn't make any great waves back on release, but it's a film that holds up surprisingly well these days, particularly as an 80s noir snapshot.
Thematically picture asks us if everyone has the devil inside them if prompted or manipulated from outside sources? Alex's motives are intentionally left sketchy, we are in no doubt from the opening credits that he's untrustworthy, yet who he is or what he's really about are questions left hanging in the air. A good looking charmer without doubt, and thanks to Spader's uber wimp beginnings, we find ourselves urging Alex on as he slots a spine into Michael's back. There's a decidedly nasty edge to the Koepp screenplay that lets the actors excel in their respective transformations, and with the mood set at simmer, story unfolds and lets the Doppleganger motif kick in. From here on in it's now a question for the viewers of how it's going to resolve itself?
Call me Mick.
Hanson paints it in sweaty metallic strokes, interiors of Michael's condo portray yuppie claustrophobia, exteriors of nighttime L.A. are classic noir; where the bright lights of the city are eyes observing Michael's transformation and the salty whiff of the pier and the sea hover over the telling periods of dialogue. True enough to say that Bad Influence, and its director, owe a huge debt to past masters, notably something like Strangers on a Train, but the update works very well, particularly in the context of maintaining a continued sense of tension. The humour that lives and breathes in the picture is nicely placed, adding a bit of salt to an already spicy broth, and there's even the delicate hint of an old noir favourite, potential man crush.
The build up isn't matched by the pay off, but even then there's enough of a bite to warrant respect. Far better than some internet ratings suggest it is, and certainly undervalued in the neo-noir pantheon, Bad Influence is well worth reevaluating in this new age of cinema. 7.5/10