So, my parents? Not real strict about what kind of movies I could watch as a kid. And by “not real strict,” I mean I don’t think there actually were any rules, not of any kind. To be fair to them, though, there probably didn’t need to be. I didn’t like scary things as a child, so if I was frightened by whatever they were watching, I excused myself to go play with my dolls. And honestly, I’m still a tiny bit baffled by parents who absolutely forbid their children from watching any rated R film, no matter what the story is actually about.
Still. This is not the kind of movie most kids probably watch at eight or nine years old.
Besides being wholly inappropriate, Color of Night is just a terrible, terrible movie. Like it won a Razzie for ‘Worst Picture of 1994’ terrible. But the film’s long been a joke between my sister and me because, really, who else has childhood nostalgia for a movie that shows Bruce Willis in all his, uh, resplendent glory? So we decided to rent it from Netflix.
Yeah. You’re welcome.
There will be SPOILERS here because please. You don’t actually want to watch this movie yourself, right?
Psychologist Bill (Bruce Willis) is left emotionally scarred — and colorblind — after a patient commits suicide in front of him. He takes some time to get his head together and visits his fellow shrink buddy, Bob (Scott Bakula). But when Bob is murdered, Bill takes over Bob’s Monday Night Therapy Group, suspecting that someone in the group is the murderer.
1. Man, there’s just so much to talk about in this movie. Let’s begin at the beginning with our soon-to-be-suicide, Michelle (Kathleen Wilhoite).
Michelle is not just crazy; she is cuh-razy. We know this because we see her crying, smearing lipstick all over her teeth, and giving oral pleasure to the barrel of a gun. Because yes. That’s necessary. That is certainly the best way to depict mental illness as quickly as possible.
She then goes to her appointment with Bruce Willis, where she promptly throws herself out the window. Since Bruce’s office is in New York and a bazillion stories high, well. She doesn’t make it. Bruce looks down and sees her body all smeared on the ground with blood everywhere. The trauma of this leaves him incapable of seeing the color red. Like, instantly.
1A. Okay, so the whole traumatic onset colorblindness? Yes, it’s totally silly, but to be honest, I kind of enjoy it, at least conceptually. I’m all about the weird and terrifying things your brain can do under stress, and if worked properly into the plot, I could totally have been into this colorblindness, and ridiculousness be damned. But you know, the plot . . . the plot is not this film’s strong suit because this film has absolutely no strong suits of any kind. Some neat ideas, maybe. Execution, nooooooo.
1B. Still, perhaps Bruce Willis shouldn’t immediately lose the ability to see red. Cause, yeah. That shot is pretty bad. Maybe in a remake — that would never happen in a million years — he should go to bed, wake up, and eventually realize that, huh, something’s not quite right here.
1C. Also, Michelle should probably shoot herself instead of jumping out the window. For one thing, Bruce Willis repeatedly says throughout the film that he doesn’t like guns, as if there’s some specific trauma associated with them. (Even though there’s not.) For another, I’m pretty sure my various creative writing classes taught me this rule . . . I can’t remember exactly how it goes, but it’s something like this:
If a woman gives a blow job to the barrel of a gun in the first act, it should go off sometime in the second or third. Pun intended.
Not to mention, Bruce’s office is stupidly high up in this building. Mind you, it always makes me a little sad whenever Bruce Willis enters a tall building, but more importantly, this is his initial view of the body from the eightieth story, or whatever:
Of course, the camera then zooms in so you can see this:
But the problem is, our eyes? They don’t come with a fucking zoom function. So Bruce’s whole, “It was the reddest blood I ever saw,” and associating trauma? It makes no godamned sense!
2. After Michelle jumps to her death, Bruce goes to talk to some psychologist friend of his. This guy’s only around for exposition, though, and it’s not even exposition we really need, so we’ll skip him to talk about Bruce’s more plot relevant and other psychologist friend, Bob.
I watched Quantum Leap a lot as a kid, so frankly, I’m surprised Little Carlie made it through the whole movie and didn’t beat a hasty Barbie Retreat after Bob’s death scene. But that’s for later. (Oh, we’ll get back to that death scene. Boy, will we.)
Bob and Bruce — I just can’t make myself call him Bill — are vaguely dickish to one another because competition is the basis of their friendship, or something. Bob probably wins the dick-off because he basically forces Bruce into participating in a therapy session with his Monday Night Group.
3. We should probably talk about the various members of the Monday Night Group.
Clark (Brad Douriff)
Clark has OCD and also rage issues. There isn’t really a lot to say about him, but he’s kind of enjoyable, not because he’s a particularly great guy (he’s not), but because he’s played by Brad Douriff, who I very much like and has made a career out of playing strange, quirky, crazy, and/or villainous side characters. I would happily keep Brad Douriff around for my imaginary remake.
Casey (Kevin J. O’Connor)
Actually, I kind of like Kevin J. O’Connor too — I like most of these actors, considering how bad this film is. Casey is the tortured artist who burned down his father’s house and has a sadomasochistic lifestyle . . . cause you know. That S&M be crazy. (Considering this movie was made in 1994, it’s no big surprise that there are a few highly unfortunate choices about what’s considered crazy. Like Richie’s supposed gender identity disorder, for instance . . . but oh, let’s hold off on the myriad of problems that is Richie.)
Anyway, Casey has one or two emotional outbursts that are kind of laughable, but I sort of enjoy his snark. It wouldn’t be much of a therapy group without at least one snarky patient, right? (I’m keeping that in mind in case I ever end up attending some kind of group therapy, although I suspect I would be exceedingly bad at such a thing, considering my likeliest cause for entering said therapy would be social anxiety.)
Buck (Lance Henriksen)
It’s funny just how different Lance Henriksen looks to me in this movie, even though his physical appearance isn’t really all that changed. Anyway, Buck is a cop whose wife and child were killed in an unsolved shooting. That’s important — well, not really — but we’ll get back to that later.
Honestly, Lance Henriksen doesn’t have a whole lot to do — most of the supporting cast is left out in the cold — but I like his whole gruff, angry persona anyway. I should watch more movies with Mr. Henriksen. I mean, how have I not seen Pumpkinhead yet? That sounds like the kind of movie I need to see.
Sondra (Lesley Ann Warren)
Of course, the one woman in the entire group is a nymphomaniac. (She’s also, apparently, a kleptomaniac. It’s brought up, like, once.) Sondra is, well, not good. Lesley Ann Warren plays her in this bizarre, giggly, almost silly sort of way — I guess to remind us that she’s on the verge of orgasm, like, all the time? It seems like the performance that the director probably wanted, but . . . yeah. It’s not great.
Richie (Jane March)
Richie has some rage issues and drug issues and, most importantly, wants to be a woman. The thing is, though, that Richie already is a woman, not just because he perceives himself as female, and I should be referring him to as ‘she’ and ‘her’ — but because Richie isn’t actually Ritchie. You see, it turns out that Richie is already dead, and the person we think is Richie is actually Rose. Rose is a girl who gets into a fender bender with Bruce and pretty promptly starts screwing him. Rose is also Richie’s sister.
Why, you might ask, is Rose pretending to be Richie? Well. Richie killed himself because he was being molested by his old therapist (not Bob), the same therapist, in fact, who molested Richie and Rose’s older brother, Dale. Dale snapped after Richie died and forced Rose to start wearing her dead brother’s clothes. He started calling her Richie until she snapped and started believing she was Richie. But Richie isn’t her only personality because, oh yes, she has three. She is Richie and Rose and also Bonnie — which doesn’t at all fit with the ‘R’ names but fuck it, right? Anyway, Bonnie is the secret girlfriend to everyone in the Monday Night Group. Seriously, she is having sex with all of them. Well, except Buck because Buck favors an old-fashioned kind of girl who wants to wait until she’s married to have sex . . . so Buck and Bonnie are just courting, or whatever. Oh, and technically Bonnie isn’t banging Bruce Willis, I suppose. See, he gets Rose’s true personality because their
never ending sex scene love is more pure, or something.
Honestly, there’s so much wrong with everything I just wrote . . . I don’t even know where to begin. Well, that’s not true. Let’s begin with the fact that it’s stupidly obvious that Jane March is playing Richie, Rose, and Bonnie.
Honestly, maybe I wouldn’t have picked up Richie right away — it’s hard to say. I mean, I knew going in that Richie was also Rose — even after twenty years, I still remembered that particular convoluted nightmare twist. But I don’t remember getting a super good look at Richie’s face when we first meet him, and I might have chalked up the weird voice to bad acting or something.
But this is the thing — Jane March? She has a very distinct mouth. Her teeth are rather large, and she has a pretty big overbite, which, hey. I get it. I’ve got an overbite, too, and I’m not all eager to go out and pay a bazillion dollars to fix it. Your acting career shouldn’t be judged on the size or straightness of your teeth — but it also means that adding a wig, an accent, and some terrible pancake makeup just isn’t going to cut it if you want me to believe Rose and Bonnie are different women. (On the positive side, Bonnie’s British accent is real, and I’ll give Jane March this much: it took me a bit to catch that her American was wrong. Though maybe I was just distracted by all the crazy.)
Honestly, I knew Bonnie was Rose almost the second I saw her, and once I saw that, it was easy to see the same actress was playing Richie too. And for Christ’s sake, I’m not even that good with faces. If we’re going to keep this twist around, we’d probably need to cast an unknown with no terribly distinct facial features as R/R/B. Richie would have to wear a much better disguise. And it’s probably for the best if we just don’t see Bonnie at all.
On the other hand, maybe it’s better if we just scrap the whole Richie/Rose/Bonnie thing entirely and come up with a whole new reason for Bob’s murder. Cause Mek and I have been talking about how you would go about fixing it, and . . . honestly, I don’t know if I can. If I was going to try?
Well, first, I’d probably get rid of the MPD/DID diagnosis entirely. Dale would still force Rose to dress up as her dead brother, but she wouldn’t believe she actually was Richie. See, there’s this line in the movie about how Rose can supposedly become anyone her partner needs her to be — which is a kind of interesting idea that’s, unfortunately, never fully explored. I think I need Rose to have some reason to make all these personal connections with the group. She would try to be the person that each of them needs, but their relationships shouldn’t all (or even mostly) be sexual in nature. For instance, she could be a daughter surrogate for Buck, as he’s lost his child, etc.
Still, the whole thing is so convoluted and ridiculous, it might be better to just get rid of it entirely.
4. But I’ve jumped far, far ahead of the plot. Okay. Shortly after Bruce meets the Monday Night Group, Bob is murdered in his office. His death scene is . . . horrible. Really, I’m not sure I can convey just how bad this scene is. Scott Bakula, who I generally enjoy well enough, overacts like whoa, and that’s not helped by the fact that he’s stabbed a bazillion times in slow motion until he finally busts through a glass pane window and is impaled on the shards. (Actually, we only see him get stabbed maybe six or eight times, I think, but Bruce Willis later tells us that he was stabbed, like, thirty-something times. Because restraint is clearly not this film’s strong suit.) Anyway, it’s one of the most laughable scenes in the whole film, which is really saying something. I don’t know if I’ve giggled quite this hard since Kurt Russell’s, “NOOOOOOOOOOO!” in Tombstone.
5. We then meet the most holy shit unsympathetic cop on the face of the planet.
This is Martinez, and seriously, there is no way this man would have a job working in law enforcement or possibly of any kind. He continually insults Bruce Willis and completely makes fun of his dead friend, but then . . . strikes up a partnership with Bruce? It’s just . . . it’s mind-boggling.
See, Bob was getting these death threats, and he suspected someone in the Monday Night Group was sending them. He, of course, doesn’t tell Bruce Willis this before he drags his friend to meet everyone because . . . he’s an asshole? I don’t know. Bruce supposedly has some super special radar for diagnosing people and picking up on secret shit, but Michelle’s swan dive out of the window broke that radar, so Bruce can’t help Bob. He does tell Martinez about the threats, though, and Martinez decides that Bruce should break the news to the group, then take over the group, and see if he can figure out who killed his friend.
Martinez’s motivations never seem entirely clear to me. His general hostility would seem to indicate that he suspects Bruce of the murder, but his actions don’t really line up with that idea. If he truly wants Bruce to be his inside man, well, he goes about it in a spectacularly terrible fashion. I mean, really. If you want someone on your side, it’s probably best if you don’t crack wise about their recently murdered friend, even if said friend was a bit of an asshole. I just can’t imagine Bruce would actually team up with this guy, like, ever.
What might make sense in a remake: Martinez can’t investigate the case because he has a conflict-of-interest. (Which he, in fact, does. He and Buck used to be partners in Vice. Also, he slept with Buck’s wife shortly before she was killed.) So Martinez enlists Bruce’s help in investigating the group on the DL. And he doesn’t act like a total jackass while doing it because honestly. There’s a guy who’s got a job to do and has little time for feelings, and then there’s a guy who acts more like a coked-up asshole than a cop.
6. Of course, it should also be said that Bruce doesn’t seem to really care very much about Bob’s death. I mean, I’d say for a scene he’s pretty broken up about it. After that, well, you know. He has Rose’s constantly naked body to comfort him. Honestly, Bruce seems way more upset about Michelle’s death than about the brutal murder of a friend he’s had for at least ten years. Again, I know Bob was an asshole, but come on. Living in his house, having sex in his bed, driving his car, and taking over his Monday Night Group without a single tear shed does seem a little callous. Sure, Bill’s from out of town and all, but would you really make yourself cozy in the empty home of your murdered friend? That seems . . . decidedly weird to me.
7. You know what else seems weird? Continuing to have your therapy sessions in the same place where your last therapist was brutally murdered. I don’t understand why no one raises their hand and says, “Wait, Bob was killed, like, right HERE? Dude. Can we just move this down to the park or something? Or a church or a food court or pretty much anywhere else?”
8. My personal experience with therapy is, admittedly, pretty limited, but it seems to me that a group of people with such varied illnesses and disorders wouldn’t necessarily benefit from a joint session like this. Like I could see if they were all committed to an institution of some kind, but since that’s not the case . . . wouldn’t you try to find a group that would address your specific problems? I’ve seen meetings for addicts, classes for anger management, support groups for people who suffer from OCD, but rarely have I seen a flier or advertisement with the header “Casserole of Crazy.”
That being said, this isn’t actually a serious problem I have with the film. Like, I can address that it seems silly and then just move on because, hey. It’s important to the plot, and maybe there are more generic mental illness support groups than I’m aware of.
I refuse to believe, however, that any therapist, even amateur detective therapists, would go alone to each of his clients’ houses to investigate . . . and that the clients themselves would be okay with this.
If your detective in a story is a therapist, and all his suspects are clients, then the majority of the investigation should probably take place in the actual therapy sessions. The tension of the film should come from these group discussions — suspicions should arise, secrets should be revealed, words should be coded with double or triple meanings. Always, always the audience should be aware that Bruce Willis is sitting right next to a homicidal maniac. (Even if he’s actually not.)
I’m not saying that kind of thing is easy — your writing and acting have to be sharp as hell — but that would have made for an interesting story. I know I sound crazy, but I swear there’s potential in this movie . . .
9. . . . if only it wasn’t so interested in Jane March’s tits.
Color of Night is a so-called “erotic thriller” — less emphasis on the thrilling, obviously, and more focus on the supposedly steamy sex scenes. And admittedly, I’m usually pretty bored by sex scenes myself — that’s been well documented on this blog. But these sex scenes really are pretty awful. For starters, I see far more of Bruce Willis than I ever wanted to. (Not to mention, poor Jane March probably spends half of that movie without clothes on.) But also the sex scenes just . . . keep . . . going. One in particular ran so long that Mek and I actually started fast-forwarding until we got back to plot advancement.
Jesus. It’s like reading Laurell K. Hamilton’s books all over again.
10. And here’s the thing about this film — it doesn’t know what the hell kind of movie it wants to be. Well, erotic. Yes. It wants to be that, although it really lands somewhere just shy of bad porn. But for a while there’s kind of a whole neo-noir thing that I find sort of intriguing, or would, if there was even a small measure of consistency to it. But Rose, see, she rear-ends Bruce Willis, right? (Not a euphemism.) And he gives her Dead Bob’s home address for insurance reasons, which is — well, stupid. Anyway, she comes over, and out of nowhere he starts talking like a private eye in a really terrible hardboiled detective novel. (“There she is like an angel dancing on the head of a pin.” Ugh.)
Anyway, it could be kind of neat, given better dialogue, but we’re nearly fifty minutes into the movie at this point, and this is the first time Bruce has made a reference to noir of any kind. He also only does this whenever he sees Rose, and it doesn’t really go anywhere, so it just doesn’t quite fit. (Imaginary remake: Bruce is watching a detective movie or reading a detective book right before his appointment with Michelle, and for the rest of the movie it’s a consistent character quirk of his. Martinez can even catch him doing it once and appropriately rib him for it.)
Okay, so then Rose and Bruce go on this date, right?
This is the moment I mentioned earlier, where Bruce makes a special point to say that Rose can become anybody she wants to be. It’s awkward dialogue that comes out of nowhere (and is clearly only around to exist as terrible foreshadow), but it also works to help paint Rose as this kind of femme fatale, which interests me a lot more than this MPD sufferer who’s — knowingly or unknowingly — sleeping with everyone in the group. (She knows what she’s done at the end of the film, but it’s still unclear to me if she’s supposed to be aware of what and who her personalities are doing during the film.)
And it certainly doesn’t help that for a woman who supposedly has three distinct personalities, Rose doesn’t really have personality. It’s hard to say why everyone falls in love with her, other than her willingness to cook in an apron and nothing else.
For Christ’s sake, woman. There’s a murderer on the loose. I don’t care if it’s your brother. Put on some godamned pants.
11. It occurs to me that I haven’t directly said this before, but yes, Dale is the real killer here. And he doesn’t just kill Bob. He also kills our tortured artist, Casey.
See, Casey reveals in group that he has paintings of his muse-girlfriend’s face. (This is before we know about the whole Rose/Bonnie thing.) Rose apparently tells her older brother this because Dale kills Casey in his studio. (What’s weird is that Casey seems to recognize his killer, so I’m not sure if the two somehow knew each other, or if Dale brought Rose along with him.)
Shortly before Casey dies, though, he calls Bruce because of . . . reasons. Anyway, Bruce shows up, looking for Casey, and walks through some paint. It’s not until he finds Casey’s body does he realize that it’s not paint he’s walking through. And you know what? I think this could have been a cool scene. I honestly do. I think it’s creative, and I think if it had been shot well, it could have been uber creepy.
Unfortunately, the blood in this movie looks like . . . well, paint.
And all my giggling that followed kind of took something from the creepy factor.
12. Other than this scene, the colorblindness rarely factors into the actual plot of the movie, which is clearly a mistake. The only other time it really ever comes into play is this highway chase scene where Dale calls Bruce and sing-songs that Bruce can’t see him because he’s in the red car! The voice disguiser Dale uses also sounds like a demented child, which only makes the line funnier. Also, this line: “Suck my tinker toy!”
Wow. Just wow.
13. Bruce finds out that Rose is Bonnie long before he figures out that Rose is also Richie. At this point, his brain is telling him that Rose is the bad guy, but his heart is telling him that Rose isn’t a killer. (Magic radar, my foot. It’s totally his heart. Heart knowledge!) With this in mind, Bruce goes to nicer cop Anderson (Eriq LaSalle) and gives him Rose’s license plate number, implying that he wants her address so he can ask her out or something. Anderson agrees, which utterly horrified me at first. I was like, Seriously? SERIOUSLY? You’re just going to abuse your police resources and give this near stranger a girl’s HOME ADDRESS?
But it turns out that Anderson is the smartest person in the whole movie, despite having less than five minutes of screen time. He figures that Bruce is tracking down a lead on the case and gives the info to Martinez. Admittedly, this is partially to appease Martinez, since he’s pissed at Anderson, but whatever. It still makes him good at his job, which is frankly more than I can say about anyone else in this movie.
14. Like Martinez, who takes his eyes off the crazy homicidal maniac with the nail gun pointed at him. Martinez clearly deserves to die for this. Luckily for him, he just gets nailed to a wall or something, so that he can be no help of any kind during the big finale.
15. The big finale, by the way, sucks monkeyballs.
Bruce “reveals” that Ritchie is actually Rose. Dale reveals himself as the bad guy. Martinez is an idiot. A very short fight scene occurs. Dale is about to kill Bruce, but Rose kills him first. This, actually, is okay . . . until Rose runs to the top of the building and prepares to throw herself off. Bruce talks her out of it, but before she can step away, a fucking breeze knocks Rose backwards and Bruce has to swing onto something and save her because he’s the hero and he has to do something useful. And because he saved Rose the way he couldn’t save Michelle, his sense of color is immediately returned to him.
16. Finally, allow me to blow your mind for a minute. Color of Night was actually nominated for a Golden Globe.
Oh yeah. It happened. For “The Color of Night” — best original song.
Oh my god, you guys. I understand if you don’t want to subject yourself to this whole movie, and in fact I support that decision, but you have to watch this video. You just have to. At least to the part where Scott Bakula bites it because, wow. I just started giggling until tears were in my eyes all over again.
This is just . . . this is a terrible song. Brandon, should you read this — I know you and I have come to the realization that we have wildly different tastes in music, at least when it comes to film scores, but please tell me you don’t approve of this song. Please, or I’m afraid we may have to come to fisticuffs at the next Dragon Con.
So bad. So, so bad.
Um. Completely taking over your dead friend’s life is totally the way to get over his death?