Now, I’ve written about this film before over at Future Threat, but I feel I’d be remiss if the Best of 2010 write-ups did not sit at the same site. Also, this film is just plain fun to talk about.
After the success of “Basic Instinct,” filmmakers all over the world rushed to create bigger budget “Erotic Thrillers” hoping to catch lightning in a bottle. Now, anyone who had Cinemax at the time already knew the “Erotic Thriller” sat in the ghetto of filmmaking for many years prior to “Basic Instinct” and the difference between the sub-genre and softcore porn is a hazy fog filter at best.
“Color of Night” stars Bruce Willis as a despondent psychiatrist who blames himself for the hilarious death of a patient. This event leaves Willis’s character color blind. Don’t believe me? I have video (complete with Spanish subtitles):
Taking a leave of absence from his practice, he goes to visit his old pal SCOTT BAKULA in sunny Los Angeles. The first time I saw this movie, I expected it to be Clive Barker’s “Lord of Illusion” because of Bakula. He wasn’t exactly a star at the time, but not exactly obscure either. Anyway, Bakula leads a therapy group consisting of a neat freak played by Brad Dourif, a nymphomaniac played by Leslie Anne Warren, a S&M enthusiast played by Kevin J. O’Connor, a shattered ex-cop played by Lance Henriksen, and Richie, a sexually ambiguous young man who is NOT PLAYED by the film’s romantic lead Jane March.
Look at the above pictures. There is no way this confused young man is played by flesh in the pan mid-90s sex kitten Jane March. It’s unreasonable to think such a thing.
Anyway, Bakula ends up dead rather quickly in a tribute(?) to “Psycho” and all of his therapy group members are suspects. At this point, the film introduces Ruben Blades as a gruff LA cop. The life Blades breathes into this character is so mesmerizing and odd, he quickly earned a Torgo mark.
Let’s talk about this supporting cast for a moment. Bishop from “Alien,” Piter DeVries from “Dune,” and Benny from “The Mummy” all in one film. Oh, and Miss Scarlet from “Clue.” They’re all in one room together and none of these scenes work. They’re overwrought “therapy” sessions that really don’t seem to promote healing. Also, would you trust a psychiatrist who has a baseball glove chair in his group session room?
So the film steams along as Willis talks to each of the group members and they attempt to give reasons why other members might kill Bakula. At some point, Jane March appears as Rose, a flighty chick who is kind of allergic to clothing. She and Willis have sex a lot in between the scenes of, um, detective work.
Oh, there actually is a scene before the sexcapades start where Rose and Willis’s character have to talk to each other. Note how Willis narrates the opening and closing of this sequence OUT LOUD:
Seriously, isn’t that narrating thing a sign of insanity?
At one point, Willis is chased by a red sports car. After they make their way from the airport to what looks like Torrence, Willis almost locks the sports car in the path of an oncoming train. He lets it go and later in the film, the sports car returns to drop another car on Bruce Willis.
I’m not kidding.
As someone who lives in Southern California, the geography in this film is astounding. It’s pretty clear the house Willis is staying in is somewhere in Malibu, but it takes mere seconds for characters to arrive there from downtown. The best failure of geography occurs when Willis chases after Rose and in a split second, their cars are in front of the Capitol Records building.
Eventually all signs point to Richie — the young man who is NOT PLAYED by Jane March — and his brother. Other secrets are revealed and Blades goofs around a lot. At one point, Willis goes to a birthday party and Kevin J. O’Connor gets killed. Willis eventually saves Jane March from Richie’s brother and Blades shouts for help as the film comes to a close; which restores Willis’s ability to see color (of night).
“Color of Night” is a special type of film in which the director just tries too hard. The film is littered with fancy camera tricks like smash-zooms, rack focus, split diopter shots, and lens flares. In an attempt to make this more than a skin flick, director Richard Rush overcompensates and the results look like the effort of a first time director. Rush is capable of making good movies. He made 1980’s cult classic “The Stunt Man.” One could argue he means the film to look amateurish, but that would willfully ignore just how straight-faced this film is with every over-the-top moment, every bit of gratuitous nudity, every goofy revelation, and every poorly realized camera move.
The tension between the outright silliness of its story and the dedication to it by the filmmaking is what makes the movie so enjoyable. It is unquestionably poor craftmanship — it even fails at the most basic level of making Jane March desirable — but it is probably the most entertaining film to come out of the era of “Basic Instinct” copy cats. Where the rest give you tedious attempts at titillation, “Color of Night” gives you a killer who tries to drop a car on Bruce Willis.
Doing a YouTube search pops up this karaoke video for the film’s title song. It’s overwrought earnestness is almost charming. Almost:
As a final post script, marvel as the film defeats Gene Siskel in this clip from Siskel & Ebert: