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Published: Friday, 4/24/2009

Moview review: The Informers **

Ever been to a high school reunion? The kind where the memories your classmates share of their years-old (perhaps decades-old) shenanigans seem dubious at best, as the stories have no doubt been distorted and twisted by time?

Did we really do that? Did we really talk like that?

Then, at the end of the function, you probably wonder why you bothered to attend the reunion at all because you never cared for most of those people anyway.

If that's happened to you, then you'll want to avoid The Informers, the movie version of Bret Easton Ellis' book set in 1983 Los Angeles.

If that hasn't happened to you ... well, the movie provides you the opportunity to know how the rest of us felt.

The Informers gives you flashbacks galore, like the early days of MTV and of the soulless new wave synth it made popular, and the now cringe-worthy hairstyles and clothes that were fashionable at the time. The movie also gives you nearly two hours with people you don't identify with or care about, much less want to succeed.

And that's The Informers' biggest weakness. There is no moral center. The film is populated by self-absorbed, wholly unlikable characters who do bad things to themselves and to each other. Some of them are drug dealers. Some of them are child kidnappers. Some of them are sex addicts. And those are the protagonists - if you can truly call them that.

The characters don't know it, but they're all connected by a tenuous thread of fate and circumstance that governs the rich and powerful as well as those who are down and out. Which means another multistrand narrative (think Crash). In this case it links a lecherous Hollywood producer (Billy Bob Thorton), his ex-wife (Kim Basinger), an aging newscaster (Winona Ryder), a drug-addled rock star (Mel Raido), a just-getting-by doorman (Brad Renfro), and an amoral ex-con (Mickey Rourke) to a group of 20-something pretty people (John Foster and Amber Heard among them) living a pampered life of no restraint.

But because you don't care for any of the characters, the inevitable consequences that come their way have no emotional resonance.

Live. Die. Fail. Succeed. It doesn't matter what happens to any of them. If anything, you're rooting for bad things to happen, if only to speed up the film's conclusion.

It's a shame, too, because with a cast that features Thorton, Rourke, Basinger, and Ryder you would expect more. The Informers also happens to be Renfro's final film, and he delivers the movie's most effective performance, in large part because his character, Jack, is one of the few in the movie with a conscience.

The Informers was published in 1990, and is based on Ellis's experiences and people he knew while living in Los Angeles in the early 1980s. Forget the past, though, because The Informers is clearly commentary on today's culture of greed and excess, and how our insatiable desires and lack of self-control got us to this point of near-economic ruin.

But even in the roller-coaster events of the melodramatic world of Wall Street, big banks, and big government, there are heroes and there are villains; there are people to root for and people to root against. Otherwise, life would be a random series of cause-and-effects with no consequences.

And as The Informers ably demonstrates, there's no fun in that.

Contact Kirk Baird at:

kbaird@theblade.com

or 419-724-6734.



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