Friday January 20, 1995
Now that the Cold War is over, expect an ever-increasing lava flow of movies about renegade/free-lance/disgruntled ex- or ex-ex-CIA agents. These folks have to do * something to keep active--at least until the next Hot War cools--and, if "Bad Company" is any indicator, that activity involves mucho industrial espionage. This makes sense: Corporate in-fighting has always been blood sport anyway, so why not hire your very own private cadre of crooks to tip the balance?
In "Bad Company," former CIA operative Nelson Crowe (Laurence Fishburne) inserts himself into the nefarious Grimes Organization, a boutique of spies bunkered in Seattle and headed by Victor Grimes (Frank Langella) and Margaret Wells (Ellen Barkin). The Organization specializes in Fortune 500 companies, with an emphasis on blackmail and other sordid sundries. Not long after Crowe joins up, the double and triple and quadruple crosses begin. "Bad Company" is enjoyably nasty--everybody in it is a bad guy.
Mystery novelist Ross Thomas wrote the script, and it's just preposterous enough to make you think it could really happen. (The ring of truth in spy movies is their implausibility.) Thomas understands the entertainment value in watching a tankful of barracuda and the director, Damian Harris, lights the film as if we were peering into an aquarium. The predators move in and out of the shallows--it's like watching underwater * noir .
The shiny awfulness of Crowe and Grimes and Margaret is amusing even when the film teeters on the verge of unintentional camp (which is often). Langella's purry depravity is a great match for Barkin's voracious funk. Her Maggie likes her men medium rare. Fishburne plays Crowe as a brilliant blank--his IQ is 141, just about twice Forrest Gump's. (Smart is bad.)
When he and Maggie go at each other, it's a race to see who will devour the other first. (At times they seem to be aiming for simultaneous extinction.) Then there's the supporting cast of craven CEOs and judges and bully-boys and intelligence creeps, well-played by the likes of Spalding Gray, David Ogden Stiers, Michael Beach and Michael Murphy.
It's not always easy to follow the action but the confusion seems built into the helter-skelter design. In "Bad Company" everyone, including the audience, is in the dark. Our pleasure lies not in piecing together the puzzle but in dodging the pieces.
Bad Company, 1995. R, for graphic shootings, strong sexuality and language. A Touchstone Pictures presentation. Director Damian Harris. Producers Amedeo Ursini and Jeffrey Chernov. Screenplay by Ross Thomas. Cinematographer Jack N. Green. Editor Stuart Pappe. Costumes Richard Shissler, Charles DeCaro, Carter Burwell. Music Carter Burwell. Production design Andrew McAlpine. Set decorator Elizabeth Wilcox. Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes. Ellen Barkin as Margaret Wells. Laurence Fishburne as Nelson Crowe. Frank Langella as Vic Grimes. Michael Beach as Tod Stapp.