‘The Informers’ is a joyless train wreck

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, April 23, 2009 4:07pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

The 1980s world of writer Bret Easton Ellis (“Less Than Zero”) comes heaving into view again in “The Informers,” a truly miserable look at the shallow waters of the L.A. lifestyle.

It’s 1983-ish, and thus — as we are reminded in a none-too-subtle way — just about the time AIDS was beginning to be identified as an unexplained phenomenon. This will weigh heavily on the sexually busy characters at the center of the story.

Most wallowing-in-decadence films at least make it look marginally fun to be young and alive and self-destructive. The youthful pieces of “The Informers” cast look as though they’ve gotten mesmerized by the lights of a fashion-show catwalk: all coked up and no place to go.

The young folk include an irritable kid (Lou Taylor Pucci) who boringly travels to Hawaii with his Peter Pan of a father (Chris Isaak), and a vapid richie (Jon Foster) whose shares his equally moronic girlfriend (Amber Heard) with a buddy (Austin Nichols).

Shudder. The adults are more bearable, although it’s impossible to care about the movie exec (Billy Bob Thornton) trying to reconcile with his estranged wife (Kim Basinger) while pining for a TV anchor (Winona Ryder).

The really left-field story is about a sleazebag (Mickey Rourke, bringing his own wardrobe again) intruding on the life of a nervous relative (Brad Renfro). Renfro, the onetime child star of “The Client,” died in 2008 after giving this, his last performance — and he does the best work of anybody in the movie, a nuanced, neurotic turn that runs circles around the other young actors.

On top of all that, director Gregor Jordan (“Buffalo Soldiers”) lovingly re-creates the 1980s, that era when “A Flock of Seagulls” charted songs and our government sold arms to Iran. Yes, the hair gel and shoulder pads are in place, and the effect is just as silly as it was the first time around.

During the first party sequence, I thought all this period stuff was intended as a parody, and that the movie would quickly reveal its mockery. No such luck.

Bret Easton Ellis co-scripted this adaptation, which appears designed as a cruddier version of Robert Altman’s multistory “Short Cuts.” As a novelist, Ellis was a part of the landscape of that era of excess, and maybe he establishes his perspective on the page. On the screen, it’s a joyless, self-important train wreck.

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