Synopsis: Starring big-screen action favorite Bruce Willis, Color Of Night is the thrill-packed story of a psychologist haunted by the brutal murder of a friend and colleague. While hunting for the killer he finds himself romantically entangled with a mysterious beauty who leads him through a web of passion and intrigue. Color Of Night is the steamy, erotic thriller you simply have to see for yourself!
Color of Night: Director’s Cut 3.5/6.25
eyelights: its cast. its sexy bits. its campy quality.
eyesores: its performances. its convoluted intrigue. its cheap Hitchcock knock-off.
“To deny red is to deny emotion.”
Some pictures are guilty pleasures: Sure, they have few recognizable qualities, but something about them entertain you, despite your better judgement. You just can’t help it. It’s like being unable to look away from a trainwreck. Or there’s something gloriously campy about ineptitude. Either way, you go back to it more than you should.
‘Color of Night’ is one of mine.
The erotic thriller, which was released in 1994, stars Bruce Willis as a psychologist who goes to visit an old friend to escape the trauma of a patient’s suicide. Once there, he’s forced to mingle with his friend’s therapy group when the latter is violently murdered. He soon discovers that one of them is very likely the killer.
And this killer will strike again.
‘Color of Night’ was a box office bomb at the time, recouping only half of its budget, continuing a streak of flops that Willis only stopped with his small part in ‘Pulp Fiction’ and by going back to the well in ‘Die Hard 3‘. It landed him a Stinkers Bad Movie Award for Worst Actor while the picture garnered a Razzie for Worst Picture.
Not only that, but the picture had already been a bit controversial due to a very public feud between director Richard Rush and producer Andrew G. Vajna, who each wanted to release their own cuts of the film. It was resolved only after Rush had a near-fatal heart attack and relented, making a deal for his cut to be the home video release.
(Plus there are also R-rated and Unrated versions of both. I know, I know…)
I’ve only ever seen Rush’s version. I had half-heartedly picked it up on VHS at some point when a video store was getting rid of its extra copies, just because it was there. But I wish that the theatrical version were also available to compare the two; aside for 15 minutes of extra footage, I hear that the tone is very different.
The Director’s Cut is hilariously campy. I have no idea if it was intentional, or if it was just a matter of poor taste, but had the picture been just slightly campier it could have been a comedy or a spoof of the genre. Even the score is so brazen and over-the top that it’s almost comical, as though it were poking fun at the genre.
Yet the cast is remarkable: it includes recognizable B-listers Jane March, Lance Henriksen, Brad Dourif, Lesley Ann Warren, Scott Bakula, Kevin J. O’Connor, Rubén Blades and even Eriq La Salle (in a small part). Most of the performances are scene-chewing goodness, as though each of the actors were trying to outdo the other’s craziness.
And if ‘Color of Night’ is anything, it’s karazay.
The picture begins with a woman cracking up, smearing her lipstick and fellating a gun. Next thing we know, she’s in Dr. Bill Capa’s NYC office being confronted by him and she decides to run right out of his window, falling something like forty floors down to the pavement. Cue some ‘Vertigo’-like effects and Capa can no longer see red.
It’s so bad that your jaw drops.
And it’s just the beginning: Capa’s L.A. buddy, Dr. Bob Moore (Bakula), has a group of five patient who trigger each other’s already significant personality disorders during their sessions. It looks like the worst therapy in the world, but Bob is a well-respected therapist and author and they all return every week; it’s really mind-boggling.
Everybody’s a bloody cartoon (or a joke!) in this movie: the heavily-accented taxi driver, the abrasive and foul-mouthed police lieutenant, the obsessive compulsive accountant, the nymphomaniac with a penchant for kleptomania, the gruff ex-cop, the @$$hole wealthy artist and even the weirdo gender-confused boy are all dialed up to the max.
Capa is the most grounded character here, but even Willis falls prey to the overacting bug: though he’s usually a minimalist, not unlike Clint Eastwood, here he looks uncomfortable, unable to convey grief well, sighing and sulking instead. He simply isn’t convincing either as a psychiatrist or as a human being. Like the others, he’s a cartoon.
But he sure can do sex scenes: Capa meets sexy little Rose when she bends his fender and, after a steamy -but chaste- date, they go all out: she tosses him in the pool and their clothes just slip off. Seriously. Oh, the passion! And thus we gets extended montages filled with lots of butt shots and even full frontal (in the Unrated version!).
It’s SO sexy that it becomes a caricature of Hollywood sex scenes.
If that’s even possible.
And their relationship is ridiculous, from Capa waxing poetic to himself when he sees her (did Willis want to be a poet?), to their unbelievably corny dinner dialogue backed with über cheesy music, or simply the fact that Capa ignored the fact that Rose was so evasive about everything. None of it was remotely romantic or even realistic.
‘Color of Night’ is ineptitude itself, like a caricature of Hitchcock processed through Hollywood machinery. And that’s even before Capa finds a snake in Bob’s mailbox, a red Firebird chases him through the streets or someone drops a car on him from the top of a parking lot – all of it sight unseen by anyone but him and without consequence.
The ending takes the cake, though, with an easy-peasy confession that wraps everything up so that the writers don’t have to muster up the courage to plant clues along the way. And the confrontation is hilarious, including a nailgun, a forklift and a dive into the void that sees Willis swinging like an ape to a neverending melodramatic score.
Ha! Too much!
But, despite the last-minute confession, the picture leaves us with tons of unanswered question, the least of which are:
- The suicide was just 6 weeks ago and yet Bill’s already completely given up?
- Bob’s murder was less than a week ago, and yet his office has been reopened?
- Bill can just take over Bob’s life? Bob has no friends or family? And no funeral?
- Why would Bill go back to New York just to talk to his mentor, instead of phoning?
- Why would Rose ask to see more recent pictures of Bob if she knew she was in them?
- Doesn’t anyone have decent facial recognition? Couldn’t they see who the killer was?
None of it holds up in any way. It just doesn’t.
In any event, it doesn’t matter: ‘Color of Night’ is utterly inconsequential. One gets the impression that the filmmakers were trying to make another ‘Basic Instinct‘, even making BDSM and lesbian connections, but didn’t have the skill or vision. So it’s much more enjoyable if one regards it as unintentional camp, just like ‘Showgirls‘.
Because, if taken at face value, basically, it stinks; it reeks to high heaven.
As Capa himself says: “Always guess the cliché, and you won’t be disappointed.”
Date of viewing: January 3, 2017