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"Less Than Zero" Review

 After the horror that was St. Elmo's Fire, it was time to check off another Eighties checkbox, the 1987 adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis' 1985 novel, Less Than Zero. The sentient Wonder bread boy Andrew McCarthy stars along with James Spader, Jami Gertz, and the actual star of the show, Robert Downey Jr., in a tale of sex, drugs, more drugs, the eternal suffering of the spoiled rich kids of LA, and even more drugs.

 We open with a high school graduation ceremony where we're introduced to Clay (McCarthy), his girlfriend Blair (Gertz), and best friend Julian (Downey Jr.) who is celebrating the funding for his record label, Tone Deaf (so creative) Records. Everything is wonderful and they lived happily ever after.

 Six months later, Blair is calling Clay at his not a dorm where he's attending Unspecified East Coast University majoring in Who Knows What begging him to come home for Christmas. In a serious of B&W flashbacks, we see that when he went home for Thanksgiving he caught Blair and Julian in bed together which really toasted his Wonder bread.

 Clay arrives home at his family's very swanky mansion in Unspecified High Rent District in LA and hops into his vintage 1960 Corvette convertible to find the others. Julian is in deep trouble with his label already failed and his coke habit so bad that he's $50,000 in debt to Rip (Spader) who is leaning on him hard to repay the money or else get made to work for Rip in an unfun capacity. Blair is also a cokehead and Clay is still upset about her hooking up with Julian, but love conquers all, right, so they proceed to get their shag on.

As Julian's dire situation spirals out of control, he makes moves to clean himself up, but without much support from his fed-up family. Eventually it devolves into a chase where Clay and Blair try to rescue Julian from the pit he's put himself into. Will they live happily ever after? (Spoiler: No.)

It's nearly impossible to empathize with the characters here because who gives a rip about spoiled super rich kids making poor life choices? Boo-friggedy-hoo. The glossy representation of LA parties where houses look like art galleries with more TV sets than a sports bar is pure fantasy and unrelatable.

The exception is Julian, because Downey's nuanced performance brings his desperation to life as his life spirals down the drain. It also raises the question why RDJ chose to model his personal life as a drug-addicted loser breaking into people's homes and almost losing his career after Julian. Definitely not a scared straight success story.

But there is a single choice which completely torpedoes Less Than Zero even as a messy fantasia about shiny wealth and grungy drugs and it's making them high school graduates and not college grads. Throughout the movie, I kept thinking that there's no way 18-19 year-old kids would be in this situations just six months after graduating. We never see any trace of Tone Deaf Records existing; no way would Julian be in a position to open a club at that age; why would Rip allow Julian to go $50K in debt to him; and so on.

The cast was 21-26 years-old and there's nothing that requires them to be high schoolers; if fact, the studio added the graduation scene to make the characters more likeable and had the effect of wrecking the verisimilitude of the entire story. If they had just made them college grads and sent Clay east for a job, nearly all the problems nagging at the story would've gone away. Not that it would've been a much better movie, but at least it wouldn't be so implausible as to prevent suspending disbelief.

 Outside of Downey's performance and some slick visuals, there's not much more than zero to recommend in Less Than Zero.

Score: 4/10. Skip it.


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