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Fox Home Entertainment presents
Less Than Zero (1987)

Blair: Do you ever think about me? Do you?Clay: Yeah. All the time.
- Jami Gertz, Andrew McCarthy

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: February 26, 2002

Stars: Andrew McCarthy, Jami Gertz, Robert Downey, Jr.
Other Stars: James Spader, Tony Bill
Director: Marek Kanievska

Manufacturer: Digital Video Compression Center
MPAA Rating: R for language, drug use, sex
Run Time: 01h:38m:13s
Release Date: March 05, 2002
UPC: 024543025177
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B C-CB- B-

DVD Review

Say what you will about Less Than Zero, but it does have this going for it: it's the ultimate freshman-year-Christmas-break-nightmare-scenario movie. Arriving home after that first brutal round of finals, the movie reassures us, you were right about all the people with whom you went to high school. Your new friends in college are so much cooler. December, 1987: Clay (Andrew McCarthy) comes home for the holidays to Beverly Hills, after his first term at an unspecified college back east. (We see one chilly shot of him in his dorm room, with the requisite frost on the windows.) His high school girlfriend, Blair (Jami Gertz), is modeling, and didn't make it to college; not incidentally, she's hanging out and sleeping with Clay's best friend, Julian, played by Robert Downey, Jr., who has developed a nasty cocaine habit. Clay made the big move, the clean break, putting a continent between himself and the decadence with which he grew up; everything he sees in the course of this story just bears out that his decision was the right one. Some people are their stuff. Bret Easton Ellis, who wrote the novel on which the film was based, writes about these people, and he may be one of them. If you've seen American Psycho, based on another Ellis novel, you know that it covers much of the same territory; imagine Christian Bale as just out of high school and without a homicidal streak, and he'd be right at home here. It's a world where college kids hire valets to park their friends' cars at Christmas parties. The movie seems to be of two minds; sometimes we're asked to pity the poor unloved rich kids in their Frank Gehry and Richard Neutra houses, but more often we're seeing this world through Clay's eyes. His one semester back east has given him a new kind of clarity; he knows at the beginning of the film that he should get out, and every single thing that happens validates that judgment, so the drama—Will he break out of this world?—isn't all that intense, because he already has. (We're pretty much asked to confuse the character with the author of the novel, for Clay's last name is Ellis's middle one: Easton.) It's a pretty bad movie, but it's so "of its moment" in many ways that it's fun to watch as a sort of Eighties museum, for the Husker Dü posters on the wall to the fat, thick buttons on that zany new invention, the telephone answering machine. Ellis' rambling, hipper-than-thou novel has been transformed by director Macek Kanievska into the slickest, glossiest anti-drug PSA ever made; after all, this is 1987, when First Lady Nancy Reagan was telling America's youth to Just Say No. There are some great images here, though—I especially like Blair and Clay making out in his Corvette while stopped on the middle of a main L.A. drag, then suddenly surrounded by an endless number of motorcycle dudes, like so many enormous fireflies buzzing around the car. The director is inordinately fond of overhead establishing shots that dolly down into the action, unfortunately, and these can produce vertigo; and sometimes the camerawork is just generally jumpy, almost as much so as some of the coked-up characters onscreen. Acting: Jami Gertz has a very limited range and awfully strange syntax; she seems sort of like Neve Campbell's muse. McCarthy is tight-lipped and pinched through much of the story; it's hard to know if that's a character choice, if the script doesn't give him much to do, or if this is the best that he can come up with. (Gertz and McCarthy also have that very particular sort of movie sex in which as little flesh as possible is exposed to one's partner as well as, not incidentally, to the camera.) Having the best time on screen seems to be James Spader, as an oily coke dealer and pimp; he's a scumbag, but he's not angst-ridden, and for this, as an audience member, you'll be thankful. The most harrowing thing about the acting is unintentional, and that is the eerily prescient decline into addiction by Julian, the character played by Robert Downey, Jr. With the benefit of fifteen years of hindsight, it's hard not to see this role as some sort of road map for the brutal fall from grace by this talented but obviously damaged young man.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: C-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The print of Less Than Zero seems to have weathered the years about as well as the Miami Vice look; the film is full of debris and the colors are awfully flat. Things are especially bad early in the film, which looks particularly poor, and this isn't aided by the credit sequence, with blood red letters popping off indistinct brownish images, making them close to impossible to read.

Image Transfer Grade: C


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The soundtrack is jukeboxed with many, too many songs, and some fare better than others. I'm partial to the Bangles' cover of Paul Simon's Hazy Shade of Winter, myself, though you'll get a full blast of L.L. Cool J (Goin' Back to Cali), Run-DMC (Christmas in Hollis), and an Aerosmith cover of Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu. They're the crispest things on the audio tracks, which generally sound pretty good; dialogue is clear, though I highly recommend watching Jami Gertz's scenes dubbed into French for a little extra je ne sais quoi.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
3 Original Trailer(s)
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Beach, Brokedown Palace, Fight Club, Taps, Two Girls and a Guy
5 TV Spots/Teasers
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual
Layers Switch: 00h: 48m: 06s

Extras Review: The additional trailers are a little hard to find; they're annoyingly under the menu entry "Fox Flix." I especially liked the Spanish-language trailer for the feature with its translated title, Menos de Cero.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

Mid-1980s Brat Pack fiction didn't fare particularly well onscreen, so if you're grading on a curve, Less Than Zero is surely superior to, say, Slaves of New York or Bright Lights, Big City. But that's hardly saying much. There's some nice eye candy here, but it's the kind of movie that doesn't command or even ask for your full attention. Lots of the scenes in it play out with an unwatched television or three somewhere in the room, and this movie would be very much at home on one of those TVs as so much audio/visual wallpaper.


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