Combustible Celluloid
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With: Bruce Willis, Jane March, Lance Henriksen, Scott Bakula, Lesley Ann Warren, Rubén Blades, Brad Dourif, Kevin J. O'Connor, Eriq La Salle, Jeff Corey, Shirley Knight
Written by: Matthew Chapman, Billy Ray, based on a story by Billy Ray
Directed by: Richard Rush
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexuality, violence and language
Running Time: 140
Date: 08/19/1994

Color of Night (1994)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Red Herrings

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Richard Rush is one of cinema's great lost directors. He began his career irreverent and inventive, making counterculture movies in the 1960s, peaked with his incredible, Oscar-nominated The Stunt Man (1980), and then just... petered out. It took fourteen years to make his follow-up, Color of Night (1994), and then, aside from a feature-length documentary on the making of The Stunt Man produced for a DVD release, that was it. Rush is still with us in 2018, age 89, and shows no signs of working again. It's a shame. Who knows what other great works he could have given us?

Meanwhile, Color of Night was a famous flop and the winner of the "Worst Picture" award at that year's Razzie ceremony. Kino Lorber has newly released it on a two-disc Blu-ray edition, containing both the much-hated theatrical cut (121 minutes) and Rush's director's cut (140 minutes). I viewed the director's cut and found that, while it's interesting at times, ultimately it doesn't quite work.

Bruce Willis stars as Bill Capa, a New York shrink who watches helplessly as one of his patients hurls herself out a high glass window and dies in a pool of blood on the pavement below. The incident makes Bill color-blind; he can no longer see red. He goes to Los Angeles to hang out with an old school chum, Bob Moore (Scott Bakula), whose branded practice and best-selling book makes him a ton of money. Bob invites Bill to his Monday night group, which includes the promiscuous Sondra (Lesley Ann Warren), obsessive-compulsive Clark (Brad Dourif), the grieving Buck (Lance Henriksen), the spoiled artist Casey (Kevin J. O'Connor), and a mysterious, uncommunicative teen called Richie.

Bob confesses to Bill that he thinks someone is trying to kill him, and lo and behold, someone does. It's assumed that one of the five did it, and, pressed by the rude police detective Martinez (an overacting Rubén Blades), Bill starts trying to solve the murder. Meanwhile, Bill gets into a fender bender with the fetching Rose (Jane March, as unbelievably sexy as legend would have it) and they begin a relationship, with much canoodling in the late Bill's lavish house.

The sex scenes haven't aged well thanks to the cheesy, saxophone-laden music score that accompanies them (although for a while, they were the reason that this became a popular and much-rented title on home video). Nevertheless, I confess I was not only impressed by Ms. March's toothy allure, but also by her clever performance. Willis is not the problem, either. He performs his part dutifully, and has certainly had much worse roles in the years since. (And, his next appearance would be in Pulp Fiction.) Certainly Dourif is always fun, and the other character actors are all fine.

The story is entertaining enough. But the main problem seems to be in the juggling of the scenes that lead up to the big reveal. Rush seems hamstrung, locked in, by this formula, unable to either mess around with the format or loosen up and have some fun. He doesn't play much with the idea of colors, nor does he experiment with the big sets and huge picture windows. He instead spends his time trying not to give things away. Moreover — and whether the longer director's cut is indeed better than the theatrical cut, I can't say — the movie tends to drag. Rush seems to be trying to take breaks from time to time between the mystery, but these scenes just appear like stumbling blocks to the plot; they don't string together well.

It's far from the disaster it's said to have been, but it's also not much to write home about, either. Eriq La Salle (TV's ER) appears as a cop, and Oscar nominee Shirley Knight appears in a couple of scenes, yelling at Willis from a doorway. Billy Ray, who went on to direct movies like Shattered Glass and Breach, wrote the story and co-wrote the screenplay. On the Blu-ray, the director's cut features a commentary track by Rush, and the theatrical cut offers a commentary track by co-screenwriter Matthew Chapman. The disc also includes several trailers.

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