The Informers is muddled; 17 Again is nothing new
Gertrude Stein once said of Oakland, Calif., “There’s no there there.” I had a similar feeling about Gregor Jordan’s The Informers, a multi-stranded, muddled narrative that takes place during the ’80s in Los Angeles. This modern-day Gomorrah, as realized in the Bret Easton Ellis novel the film is based on, is one where drug use and casual sex are seemingly everyday occurrences and you’re just not living if you’re not having an affair. That is life for the upper-crust narcissists in the film, none of whom come off as likable or sympathetic.
The most surprising thing about the movie is that Jordan effectively juggles the various storylines, giving each strand adequate screen time. Too bad none of them are properly developed. William Sloan (Billy Bob Thornton) is a film producer who happens to be cheating on his wife, Laura (Kim Basinger), with Cheryl (Wynona Ryder), a local news anchor. Meanwhile, their son Graham (Jon Foster) is involved with the beautiful but vacuous Christie (Amber Heard) and Martin (Austin Nichols), who also happens to be sleeping with his mother.
There’s a degree of pretension, not only in the characters but also in the film, that is off-putting. Jordan has stated he wanted this movie to be reminiscent of Robert Altman’s multi-layered works. While that is a lofty ambition, the filmmaker has a way to go before he reaches that level. Nearly all of Altman’s films had a strong script as their foundation. What’s on display here is a combination of warmed-over pulp and self-absorbed melodrama. While I have no problem with a lack of resolution regarding many of the characters, Ellis and his fellow screenwriter Nicholas Jarecki give us very little in the way of character development. Hollow stereotypes or vague shells are on display here. As a result, it’s nearly impossible to become engaged in their stories.
From the interviews I’ve seen and the way he’s handled himself in the public eye, Zac Efron seems to be a young man with his head on straight. He’s talented, good looking, charming and, most importantly, doesn’t take himself too seriously. Any time a performer from Hollywood is able to poke fun at himself, that’s a good sign. Let’s hope that years from now, when Efron looks back at 17 Again, he still has that sense of humor. A woefully embarrassing film, this time travel comedy is not only cringe-inducing but at times nearly unwatchable.
Mike O’Donnell (Matthew Perry) finds himself looking at 40 and hating his life. His wife (Leslie Mann), tired of his constant complaining, has thrown him out of the house and his kids, Maggie and Alex, (Michelle Trachtenberg and Sterling Knight) want nothing to do with him. Inexplicably, Mike is transformed into his 17-year-old self (Efron), thinking that he has been given the chance to correct his past mistakes and change his life. However, what he comes to realize is that his mission is not to heal his life, but those of his loved ones.
It’s a Wonderful Life, Peggy Sue Got Married, Back to the Future and Chances Are, all covered this territory far better than 17 Again and if this movie spurs some of its young viewers to check these films out, then perhaps it will serve some positive purpose. Efron proves to be the movie’s one redeeming factor. He brings a sense of youthful enthusiasm and optimism to the screen and it’s hard not to smile whenever he appears. He’s very much at ease in all that he does, whether it be cracking a joke, pouring out his heart or dancing across a gym floor. Like his character, you know he’s destined for great things. Let’s just hope he doesn’t make a series of poor choices and wind up wanting a do-over where his film career is concerned.