Color of Night came out the same year as Pulp Fiction. Bruce Willis would probably prefer you remember the sex scenes from that movie rather than this one.
Random weird fact: searching for “The Color of Night” on the imdb links you to a Filipino movie called Kulay dugo ang gabi. This is not about that movie. I haven’t seen that movie, but I’m now sure that it’s awesome.
Tagline: Five Suspects. Two Lovers. One Killer. Nothing is what it seems… except murder.
More Accurate Tagline: One Killer, and No, She Didn’t Gnaw Her Victims to Death With Her Giant Horse Teeth.
Guilty Party: The Hollywood studio system. Basic Instinct was a hit, so let’s do that again. Only let’s hire a charisma-void with all the sex appeal of a shetland pony. And hey, Bruce Willis is hot! Let’s check out his junk!
Synopsis: Bill Capa (Bruce Willis) is a bad therapist. After provoking a client to suicide in his office (well, technically, outside of his office… twenty stories outside of his office, if you get the idea), Bill loses the ability to see red and irony. He decides to go out to Los Angeles, to hang out with his fellow therapist and bromance Bob Moore (Scott Bakula). Because Bob is also a bad therapist, he decides to bring Bill along to the group of neurotics that form his only clientele. In a normal world, this group would all be struggling with the same disorder (and technically, they are, but that’s a crucial plot twist that Bob didn’t know about when he thought it was a good idea to put these people in the same room), but here were get a thoroughly Hollywoodized conception of what big-city neurotics look like. There’s Sandra (Lesley Ann Warren), the grossest nymphomaniac since Rue McClanahan, Buck (Lance Henriksen), seething cauldron of rage, Clark (Brad Dourif), a proto-Adrian Monk, Casey (Kevin J. O’Connor), arsonist and sleazebag, and finally Richie. Richie has gender identity issues. This is because Richie has a vagina. We’re not supposed to know that Richie is in possession of said lady parts. See, that’s a big third act plot twist, but the makeup is not good. Richie looks like one of those models of early man you’d find in a particularly cash-strapped museum if you put him in glasses and a denim vest. Richie is played by Jane March, so you have the first case of the movie undermining its femme fatale’s desirability, which is the kiss of death for a movie that hinges on this character’s rampant sex appeal.
Anyway, not too long afterward, Bill meets Rose (Jane March, now sporting bright red lipstick and a dress made out of crepe), and is smitten. Right around the same time, Bob gets brutally murdered in his office. Bill is pretty sure that the killer is one of Bob’s patients, but which one? The mystery, sadly, is the one limp thing in the entire movie. (rimshot!) Bill half-heartedly pokes around (rimshot again!), steals Bob’s house and practice, and investigates each person in turn. We learn that each of them is engaged in a romance with a girl of his or her dreams. The same girl. Jane March.
Meanwhile, Detective Hector Martinez, a Hispanic Long Duk Dong, is investigating. Since Bob died shortly after Bill showed up and Bill stole Bob’s house, Martinez suspects Bill had something to do with Bob’s murder. When the therapy group starts getting bumped off one by one, Martinez is even more positive. Bill launches his own investigation and determines that Jane March is involved. She has two brothers, the younger of which, Richie, killed himself after being molested. The older brother, Dale, made Jane March pretend to be Richie. It’s just as gross as it sounds. But on the upside, Bruce Willis defeats Dale and rescues Jane March from a giant metal phallic symbol.
Life-Changing Subtext: We’re all gay some of the time.
Defining Quote: “So much blood! So red! And right before my eyes the red just disappeared just turned to gray so I don’t see red now! But you see I was her doctor! And I failed so I can’t help you I don’t think you want someone like me around right now!” Subtlety? What’s that?
“Nice bush,” a quote from Detective Martinez was a close second.
Standout Performance: Ruben Blades as Detective Hector Martinez. Blades seems to think this is a wacky comedy, and plays his role accordingly. He comes off as a Hispanic Mitchell – belligerent, incompetent, and strangely self-congratulatory. He also helps undermine the battle scene with Hispanic minstrel posturing.
What’s Wrong: It’s unfair to judge this movie in a vacuum. You have to look at it by the standards of the short-lived subgenre of erotic thrillers, the retarded horndog cousin of the film noir. So if the mystery is competent and the sex scenes are reasonably steamy, you have to give the film a pass. What you need, then, is someone at the height of sexiness in the lead role. Someone with charisma, a killer smile and gams for days. You need, if not an actual cougar, someone who will eventually become a cougar – sort of a junior varsity cougar, trying to make the team with icy stares and intimations of bisexuality. What we got was Jane March, who, I guess, was hot in the ‘90s. And not Jennifer Aniston in the first season of Friends hot. Her sex appeal is mostly confined to her willingness to wear little to nothing. Oh – and the girl on girl stuff is with Leslie Ann Warren. That’s what they thought would turn us on. Leslie Ann Fucking Warren.
Flash of Competence: Wasn’t the kissing between March and Warren, I’ll tell you that. There’s a scene where Bill breaks into Kevin O’Connor’s studio to look around. He slips and falls into what looks like a pool of oil, but with the discovery of O’Connor’s murdered corpse, the oil turns bright red. It was blood all along! Cheesy, sure, but it’s the one effective use of Bill’s theme-friendly disability.
Best Scenes: Any scene with Ruben Blades fits the bill. This is probably the most damning statement I’ve made. In an erotic thriller, the best scene should always, ALWAYS, be one of the sex scenes. Sorry, but Bruce Willis fucking a donkey isn’t my idea of hot.
Transcendent Moment: At the end of The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, we mocked the movie with repeated calls for help from the forgotten husband last seen wounded in the basement. Well, Color of Night does the same thing without a trace of irony. Only instead of Matt McCoy, it’s Ruben Blades doing his Speedy Gonzalez impression. It completely undercuts what little tension was built in the finale.
Non-mysterious mystery, unsexy sex and unsuspenseful suspense. The only reason this movie made any money at all was a naked Jane March, and that makes me want to cry.