Color of Night
Screenplay : Matthew Chapman and Billy Ray
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1994
Stars : Bruce Willis (Dr. Bill Capa), Jane March (Rose), Reuben Blades (Detective Martinez), Lesley Ann Warren (Sondra), Scott Bakula (Dr. Bob Moore), Brad Dourif (Clark), Lance Henriksen (Buck), Kevin J. O'Connor (Casey), Andrew Lowery (Dale), Eriq La Salle (Anderson)
"Color of Night" is one of those movies where nobody acts even vaguely like a real person would. There is rarely if ever a moment when a characters says something, reacts to another character, or responds to a particular situation in the manner that an actual human being would. The movie is striving with undignified, undisciplined passion to be a kinky psychosexual thriller, but instead, by virtue of its own ineptitude, it turns itself into giggle-inducing camp. It is probably best summed up as a bad made-for-TV movie with frontal nudity and graphic violence.
Bruce Willis stars as Dr. Bill Capa, an expensive New York psychoanalyst who speaks a little too rough to one of his patients (who we saw during the opening credits putting lipstick on her teeth, so we know she's nuts), and then watches helplessly as she hurls herself out the window. Capa just stands there dumfounded, and when he sees her lying on the street in a pool of blood, he suddenly loses his ability to see red. You see, red is the color of emotion, and by not being able to see it, the movie is symbolizing his inability to deal with his ... oh, never mind. It's a cheap gimmick thrown in for no apparent plot purpose except that maybe somebody might mistakenly refer to the film as "Hitchcockian."
After this disaster throws Capa for a loop, he quits his practice and goes to visit a psychiatrist buddy of his named Bob Moore (Scott Bakula) in Los Angeles. But, before he can settle down, Moore is viciously stabbed to death in his office, apparently by one of his own patients. Capa takes over the therapy group that might include the killer; and, in the movie's first major leap of logic and common sense, Capa more or less takes over Moore's life. He takes up residence in Moore's multi-million dollar house, drives his convertible Porsche, and assumes Moore's professional position, without there ever being any kind of contest from anyone else. Didn't Moore have any family or friends who might want a piece of the action? Didn't he leave a will? Weren't there any other associates who might be better equipped to handle the group than Capa, who has personal problems of his own?
The Monday-night therapy group, as it comes to be known, is a melting pot of every cinematic cliché involving mental illness in the history of the movies. First, we have the kleptomaniacal nymphomaniac, Sondra (Lesley Ann Warren), so we're sure to have plenty of Freudian sex talk. Then there's Clark (Brad Dourif), a lawyer who obsessively counts everything. Casey (Kevin J. O'Connor) is a pony-tailed artist whose major problem seems to be that he's a jerk, but he goes to therapy because if he doesn't, his rich father will cut him off. For good measure, we also have Richie, an androgynous teenager confused about his sex roles among other things. The only patient who even vaguely resembles a human being is Buck (Lance Henriksen), who is enraged at the mysterious death of his wife and child. But, the movie ruins his character by involving his past with Moore's murder in a way that is torturously strained.
The actual therapy that is supposed to help these patients seems to entail nothing more than letting them scream obscenities at each other. However, it doesn't really matter because none of these patients come across as characters; they exist merely to be murder suspects.
As the movie progresses forward, Capa (who is also a suspect and a potential victim) becomes inexplicably involved with a young girl named Rose, played by Jane March, whose abilities to get undressed and simulate an orgasm in 1992's "The Lover" were obviously the main reasons for her being cast here. Rose appears and disappears whenever the screenplay (by Michael Chapman and Billy Ray) deems it necessary, and although she at first appears to exist merely for purposes of sex, it's obvious that she must have something to do with the murder.
Capa and Rose meet because she "accidentally" read-ends him. In the next scene, they go to dinner, and one scene later, she appears out of thin air at the house, they fall into the swimming pool, and commence several minutes of intense lovemaking, complete with the kind of overwrought, melodramatic music that usually accompanies movies by Zalman King. There's a great goofy moment when Capa and Rose take a break from lovemaking to eat dinner, but Rose shows up to the table naked and says, "If you're not hungry for this, I know of something else that's ready." They get up from the table and, on cue, the music slowly surges back up right where it left off, and we get several minutes of steamy panting in the shower. If the whole sequence wasn't so gushy, it might have been sexy.
And, let's not forget that "Color of Night" is the movie that caused a big storm when the MPAA gave the film an NC-17 rating for briefly showing Willis' penis. The producers of this movie probably knew they had a stinker, which is why they put up such a big fight, hoping to give the movie enough notoriety to draw people to the theaters before word got out on just how bad it was. The infamous shot of Willis' privates never made it to American theaters, but it did show up on the "director's cut" video version, which adds a mind-boggling fifteen extra minutes, dragging the already overlong running time to an excruciating 140 minutes, all for a shot of Willis' genitalia that is so brief, you don't even have to blink to miss it.
When not engaged in sexual antics, the movie is desperately trying to throw the viewer off the murderer's trail by dropping red herrings everywhere. For instance, at one point a bright red Camaro with black-tinted windows begins attacking Capa while he's driving down the street. A tiresome car chase ensues, where both cars are beaten up fairly badly. That night, Capa goes to Buck's house and, lo and behold, there's a red Camaro in his garage. Capa immediately goes over to inspect it, but finds that there are no marks on it anywhere. So this means either a) Buck isn't the killer, or b) Buck is the killer and he knows a one-day auto body shop. Of course, this begs the question of what are the chances of the killer and Buck both having red Camaros with black-tinted windows?
All the acting in the movie is either preposterously understated (Willis) or preposterously overdone (all five patients, with maybe the exception of Henriksen). However, in the overbaked acting department, nobody can compare with Reuben Blades at Detective Martinez, the most obnoxious police investigator in all of Los Angeles. With a thick Latino accent and a bad attitude, he storms everywhere he goes, cussing and spitting and rarely speaking in a voice that is in the least bit understandable. I suppose he was intended for comic relief, but since the whole movie is funny in its own deformed way, his services really aren't needed.
"Color of Night" was directed by Richard Rush, who made the film as his comeback vehicle after a fourteen-year hiatus from moviemaking. Many people questioned why Rush would be attracted to this material, because his last film, "The Stunt Man" (1980), was a well-received black comedy. People tend to forget that the kind of over-the-top camp that characterizes "Color of Night" is right up Rush's alley. After all, this is the man who directed late sixties motorcycle movies like "Hell's Angels on Wheels" (1967), "Thunder Alley" (1967), and "The Savage Seven" (1968), not to mention the gloriously trashy camp classic "Psych-Out" (1968). With those films in mind, it's not hard to see why he would be interested in "Color of Night." Let's just hope it's another fourteen years before he decides to make something similar.
©1998 James Kendrick