Picks and Pans Review: Bright Lights, Big City

UPDATED 04/18/1988 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 04/18/1988 at 01:00 AM EDT

When the Jay McInerney book on which this movie is based came out in 1984, it quickly became the rage among New York City's club-hopping hip. Four years and a century of change later, the concerns of this film version seem as passé as Studio 54. But lack of timeliness is the least of its problems. First there's the dubious casting choice of Michael J. Fox in the lead role. The argument could be made that the character is so utterly loathsome that director James (Urban Cowboy) Bridges needed someone immediately likable. It was a nice try, and Fox gives it his all, but even at his most jaded, he seems about as cynical as Beaver Cleaver. Screenwriter McInerney's too-faithful adaptation of his own work is another problem. Bright Lights is about a week in the life of a troubled magazine fact checker-aspiring novelist. He stays out all night snorting "Bolivian Marching Powder" (cocaine) and drinking double vodkas. Those are just the symptoms. The real conflicts about his wife and mom take place inside the character's head. McInerney can only novelize the film with voice-overs, soliloquies and inner-thought sequences that test audience endurance. The movie works only when it escapes these constrictions, as in the scene of Fox showing up hung over at the office and having to work on a story about French elections. One error and it's his job. When coworker Swoosie (Vice Versa) Kurtz asks if he needs some help, Fox shakes his head no. "There's a certain shabby nobility in failing all by myself," he tells her. Keifer (The Lost Boys) Sutherland, who plays Fox's disco-prowling cohort, turns in another impressive performance. But because so much time is spent trying to wrench the novel into cinematic form, the movie can't match the book as a compelling and insightful look into a subculture. It abstracts what was an intensely personalized story of drugs, desperation and inner turmoil and turns it into the equivalent of a bad philosophy class. (R)

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