Bonfire of the Vanities (1990) Brian De Palma

Production Budget: $47 million
Gross: $15 million

There’s not a whole lot I want to touch on as far as the production goes.  There were several different possible casting choices for the lead roles.  In the end they chose the “safe” picks of Bruce Willis and Tom Hanks.  They wanted big names to draw in the revenue.  This backfired because at the time Hanks was not known for dramatic roles, and all non-action entries for Willis at the time were bombs.  Willis was such and egotistical cockfag on set a book was written on how big of an egotistical cockfag he was on the set.

The story was also changed around a little to make McCoy a more likable character.  Producers or De Palma did not think audiences would go for a dark movie.  The story which was adapted from a serial story by Tom Wolfe (Wolfe wanted a story much inspired by Charles Dickens) is about Wall Street millionaire Sherman McCoy.  McCoy’s mistress gets into a hit and run accident with his car and McCoy becomes the target of a political witch hunt.  Everyone is salivating at the opportunity to prosecute a white person to gain political cred as a law and order man that they completely ignore evidence in order to try to convict McCoy.

Is it any good? Alright, I’ve talked a lot of sh*t about this film.  I guess its time to outline why I hate it so much.  The biggest reason among many is that the casting is some of the worst I’ve seen.  I hate to use the overstatement of “one of the worst of all time” but its pretty bad.  Tom Hanks and Bruce Willis were obviously brought in for their money drawing power and it shows.  I know there are several examples of actors playing against type but this is one instance where it doesn’t pay off.

The role Bruce Willis is supposed to play is what I see as a Christopher Hitchens type.  He is the incredibly intelligent journalist with a scotch glass permanently plastered in one hand and a razor sharp wit that rivals Mark Twain.  He is the prototypical John Hurt role.  Instead we get a John McClane with glasses role where we get cheesy one liners like he’s in a die hard movie.  Oh, and he does another voice over ala his voice over in North.  It serves no purpose other than to spell out to the audience what they already know.  There is no charm nor wit nor any reason to follow this character.

Tom Hanks is supposed to play the Gordon Gecko role.  Really, all I need to say is Tom Hanks is trying to play the Gordon Gecko role and your head is already smacking the table.  Say what you want about Hanks’ acting ability: I think he is a fine actor.  At that time in his career though (basically Joe Versus the Volcano) he didn’t quite have the dramatic acting chops of say Philadelphia.  And Hanks sure as hell can’t play a dick.  His version of a dick is just to be a whiny annoying twat.  His sense of comedy is also off in this movie.  There is absolutely no subtlety at all.  What should be subtle satire is reduced to bug eye double takes and scenes where he goes absolutely manic.

Then you also have incompetence even at the supporting actor role.  Melanie Griffith is nails on a chalkboard irritating.  I thought Maria was a foreign born globetrotter.  Well, why does she have a deep southern accent then?  What the f*ck ever.

I don’t mind if a movie changes the story a little bit to make it better for movie audiences.  I know that books cannot be completely faithful to the source material and still be interesting.  But what De Palma does is completely sever the balls to this satire.  The first half of this movie is dedicated to the fact Hanks’ character is a nice guy.  NO HE’S NOT!  That’s the point.  He’s a dick and he gets his comeuppance..  There is not supposed to be a likable character in this whole affair.  Everyone is motivated by greed, fame, and power.  It’s a nihilistic work.

Not content with being subtle and having the audience figure things out for themselves, we have to have everything spelled out for us.  We are bombarded with a droll voice over from Bruno stating how everyone is out for something and how they are manipulating poor old McCoy.  We even get a “message” from Morgan Freeman by the end of how we should all just get along.  It even has the lines, and I sh*t you not this is what he says “Be decent! Its what your mamma taught ya!”

Then there’s decisions that are just plain weird.  Like making Maria have this quirk where she doesn’t know the English language so she’ll say different words like Ziva from NCIS.  Or a scene where McCoy goes crazy and shoots up his apartment with a shotgun.  That stuff doesn’t add anything to the story and its not particularly funny.  So why add it?

But to restate the point, De Palma completely compromises the whole point of the book to make a Hollywood blockbuster.  It is a dark farce that refuses to pull any punches.  The movie wants to be likeable, have a heartwarming message, and send the audience home really happy.  This is a god awful adaptation.


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