The Informers

“American Psycho” was based on a Bret Easton Ellis novel, and so is “The Informers,” but don’t let that trick you into thinking “The Informers” is going to be good, like “American Psycho” was. In fact, the response to “The Informers” when it premiered at Sundance was so overwhelmingly negative — like laugh-out-loud, slow-down-to-look-at-the-train-wreck negative — that I’m honestly surprised the distributor had the guts to proceed with the theatrical release.

But sure enough, here it is, brazenly befouling cinemas with its sub-soap-opera acting, melodramatic dialogue, and thoroughly unlikable characters. Seldom has so much attention been paid to such shallow people. I mean that the filmmakers have paid attention. You, the viewer, will pay little attention to these lumps.

Like most Ellis novels, “The Informers” is a string of loosely connected vignettes about unsupervised, unmotivated wealthy young people in Los Angeles in the 1980s. In this case, it’s 1983 (so ignore the reference to “Amadeus,” which didn’t come out for another year), and Ray-Bans, shoulder pads, and blond highlights are everywhere. We begin at a trendy L.A. house party, the type where cocaine and bisexuality are indulged in casually, and we arrive just in time to see someone get hit by a car and die.

In a movie with an actual story line, this would be the “inciting incident.” Here, it is merely an excuse to introduce the major characters, so that we’re familiar with them when lots of nothing starts happening to them. The protagonist, I guess, is Graham (Jon Foster), who’s in love with his girlfriend, Christie (Amber Heard), who sometimes sleeps with Graham’s best friend, Martin (Austin Nichols). But then, sometimes Graham sleeps with Martin, too, so it all evens out. Martin, evidently quite a catch, also sleeps with Graham’s mother, Laura (Kim Basinger), currently separated from Graham’s father, William (Billy Bob Thornton), a movie mogul who’s sleeping with a TV newscaster named Cheryl (Winona Ryder).

But wait! There’s more! Graham, Martin, and Christie, have a friend — the only friend none of them have sex with, apparently — named Tim (Lou Taylor Pucci), who is being dragged on a Hawaiian vacation with his philandering louse of a father, Les (Chris Isaak).

Oh! And there’s a British rock star named Bryan Metro (Mel Raido) who has come to L.A. for a gig, and to sleep with as many teenage boys and girls as possible. Oh! And there’s a hotel clerk named Jack (Brad Renfro, his last film role) whose scumbag Uncle Peter (Mickey Rourke) has shown up with an underage girl in tow. Peter soon abducts a young boy in throws him in his van, much to Jack’s consternation. Out-of-town relatives are such an embarrassment.

The gist of the story is that all these people have sex with each other, and argue with each other, and argue about the sex they’re having. Everyone treats everyone like garbage. The only way you can tell which people are friends and which are enemies is that the friends sleep together.

From what I gather, the film — whose screenplay was co-written, with Nicholas Jarecki, by Ellis himself — was originally intended as a satire of the decade’s hedonistic excesses. The film originally had vampires in it, too (no joke!), but those and about 50 minutes’ worth of material were cut before filming began. The production changed directors early on, too, with Jarecki replaced by Gregor Jordan (“Buffalo Soldiers”), who evidently did not share Jarecki and Ellis’ vision, whatever that may have been. The acting is uniformly flat, even from the cast members who are usually better than this, which suggests they were directed to stylize their performances a certain way. A certain way that didn’t work.

Or maybe it did. Maybe what Jordan and the writers envisioned all along was something tawdry, cheap, unintentionally funny, and — worst of all — boring. I think all they really cared about was that the movie have a lot of naked people in it, and everything else was secondary.

D (1 hr., 38 min. ; R, abundant harsh profanity, abundant nudity and sex, some violence.)