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BAD INFLUENCE

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, June 24, 2016

EDITOR’S NOTE: This film has been on DVD before but has just earned a new Blu-ray upgrade from The Shout! Factory. It’s notable for being influenced heavily by Alfred Hitchcock, as well as the unusual flipping of the two main actors from their comfort zones — with Rob Lowe as the slimy villain and James Spader as the wimp who’s being taken advantage of. Here’s my March 15, 1990, Deseret News review.

"Bad Influence," with echoes of "Strangers On a Train" and other Hitchcock thrillers, tackles a familiar theme — the innocent man who becomes involved in murder and tries desperately to free himself from an evil bond.

In this case, it's Rob Lowe who's having a "Bad Influence" on James Spader.

But the film is old-fashioned only in its basic themes. The R rating is earned.

The story casts Spader as a high-rolling yuppie, a bit of a wimp, engaged to a woman he doesn't really want to marry and letting himself be stepped on by a colleague who's more aggressive and less ethical.

One day he's feeling sorry for himself in a bar and unwisely smarts off to a tough guy. But before Spader's beaten to a pulp, Lowe steps in to help him. When Spader turns to thank Lowe, he's gone. Coincidentally — or is it a coincidence? — Spader's wallet is also gone.

That night, Spader is jogging when he spots Lowe and approaches him to thank him for the help. They have a drink together and it's the beginning of a less-than-beautiful friendship.

     

             Rob Lowe, James Spader, 'Bad Influence'

Lowe introduces Spader to a lifestyle he barely knew existed and for the next week he becomes acquainted with its drugs, booze and women, followed in due course by assault, robbery and murder.

Things escalate rapidly and get out of hand before Spader knows it. At first this new lease on life is quite appealing, especially when Spader gets the courage to stand up to the co-worker who's been giving him trouble.

The joke begins to go too far, however, when Lowe helps Spader get out of his impending marriage by using a compromising videotape (a plot device that parallels a little too closely Lowe's real-life scandal of last summer, and which is doubly interesting when you consider that Spader's last film was "sex, lies and videotape").

As is evident, "Bad Influence" is a treatise on the nature of evil, an attempt to explore the idea that each of us has a bad side, which, when prodded, can prompt us to do things of which we never would have believed we were capable.

     

The performances are excellent by both stars. Spader's always good and he excels here as an innocent who quickly finds himself in a well of corruption and finds it's not easy to climb out. As for Lowe, this is perhaps the most convincing acting he's ever done.

The supporting players are also quite good, especially Christian Clemenson as Spader's ne'er-do-well brother and Lisa Zane as a kinky/kooky woman Spader becomes attracted to.

This is territory that director Curtis Hanson explored with equal success in "The Silent Partner," which he wrote, and "The Bedroom Window," which he wrote and directed. But this film, like those, is more raunchy than it needs to be. Screenwriter David Koepp has also previously delved in the genre with "Apartment Zero" (which also happens to be playing in town right now).

"Bad Influence" is rated R for violence, sex, nudity, profanity and drug use.