The cursory introduction to the feature seemed to include all of the things necessary to get me in front of the screen: drug use, prostitution, Robert Downey Jr. What could go wrong?
Since Ellis is of a rather haughty background, his work is generally set amidst scenes of resplendent wealth that could serve to alienate its viewers – namely me. So while the premise of a college age kid heading off to school only to return to a mess of a social situation peppered with drugs and the like sounded enticing. The fact that Clay, the main character here portrayed by Andrew McCarthy (whatever happened to that guy?), pushes an expensive Corvette and his friends are all spoiled rich kids doesn’t really do it, though.
The entirety of the movie – but perhaps not the book, I haven’t pushed through those pages as of yet – can pretty easily be guessed from the outset. Someone’s gotta die and it’s not too difficult to pick a character whose demise is just and hour and change off.
Either way, the narrative begins with Clay returning home after Downey’s character, Julian, steals away our hero’s girlfriend, Blair (Jamie Gertz). There’s a concerted effort to patch things up between the three former friends. And eventually, Clay gives in. Again, this particular moment seems like a foregone conclusion despite the cool reception Clay gives Blair on a phone call.
Of course, since the setting of Less than Zero is Los Angeles, there’s not a sense of reality to the whole thing and not a word from anyone’s mouth should be believed. So while Clay reconciles with his one time friend and lover, there’s an ulterior motive that involves the aforementioned drugs and prostitution.
Most of the flick, though, is given over to Downey roaming around and acting like a scum bag. Finding such frequent scenes of the star slack jawed, stoned and cross eyed should cause viewers to wonder if that was proper acting or life imitating art. Or whatever. Either way, the performances from the leading actors is pretty decent even if during the emotional stuff McCarthy and Gertz sounds a bit wooden.
It should all be ratified by the neon lights, fake LA opulence and the impending sense of doom. And while the film’s able to lend viewers a queasy feeling due to its perpetual downer nature, much of the entire affair is washed over with enough throw back music – Rick Rubin helmed the soundtrack, which oddly enough included “Psychotic Reaction” by the Count Five – as to make the film passable.
Downey’s career would carry on for a while before real life problems dragged him down, but pretty much everyone else involved disappeared off of the face of the earth not too much later. Perhaps, though, that’s just another confluence of art and life seeing as Blair and Clay drive off into the sunset together as the film comes to a close.