The Bonfire Of The Vanities (1990)
Metrograph in NYC is showing a Brian De Palma series, showcasing 28 out
of his 29 full length films. Brian De Palma is one of my favorite
directors, having directed 4 films I would rate a 9 out of 10, which
include Carrie, Phantom Of The Paradise, Dressed To Kill and Body
Double. He has many other very good films, including Sisters, Scarface
and Hi Mom. He also has about 14 movies I have not seen yet, so this is
my chance to see as many of them as I can make time for, so expect to
see me reviewing all the ones I have missed or skipped due to
disinterest. Nothing I like more than rounding out the catalogue of
films I have yet to see of a particular director, especially one held in
such high esteem.
Now here is one of his films that I, and many other people, did not catch when it came out. Considered to be one of the worst large studio films ever made, along with Ishtar, this film is up there on the list of films I have been told to never bother with. Which of course makes me want to see it all the more!
I have seen a lot of bad films in my day, and I am always surprised at what people consider bad. To me, when you spend 250 million dollars on a Batman V Superman movie and it comes out long and boring and barely worth watching, I want to find Hollywood studio people and hurt them. But then you have this film, which people say is so bad, yet I found it sort of funny and charming and fun to watch!
The movie is adapted from a Tom Wolfe book of the same name, and since I do not read books before watching movies, I have no clue how well this was adapted, nor do I care to be honest. The plot revolves around racism, greed, sex, lust, power and alcoholism. It is a very cynical movie, and was probably an even more cynical book. It has a lot of name talent in it, like Tom Hanks, Melanie Griffith, Bruce Willis and Morgan Freeman.
One of the problems with the movie is most likely the large Hollywood studio that hired Brian De Palma to direct this. He was not their first choice, and they hired a guy who likes to do things his way and forced him to do things their way. That's never a good start. Plus there were high expectations when it came to this release, which can often set things up for disaster. The budget was high, for various reasons, and it would have had to have been a big hit to even break even, let alone make money.
The first 5 minutes of this film are a film student's primer in how to make a scene amazing. One continuous beautiful shot of a drunk Bruce Willis being led through the back corridors and elevators of the World Trade Center, on his way to his big moment. Many people bring up his long shot in Carrie as an amazing film moment, this one rivals that in execution.
While the tone of the film can be a bit odd at times, and the plot a bit insane, it never loses steam and moves along quite quickly. De Palma once again decided to give an actress a less than appealing accent, here it is Melanie Griffith with a ridiculous southern accent, where as in Blow Out he gave Nancy Allen a terrible almost unlistenable accent which ruined the movie for me. Thankfully he does not make Melanie Griffith that unappealing.
As much hatred as this film gets, just like Ishtar, I do not understand why it is hated to the degree it is. I found the film an enjoyable slightly messy ride that entertained me the whole way through. Is it a classic? No, far from it. But it is not this shit show that others claim it to be. Keep an open mind and enjoy the ride!
7 out of 10 stars.