"Billionaire Boys Club," a sadistically laborious NBC movie about a famous yuppie murder case, comes across like a new production of "Lord of the Flies" as interpreted by a cast made up entirely of Amway salesmen. Or maybe Herbalife distributors.
Movies this wretched and shallow are made, and shown, all the time, but "Boys Club" stands out. You can ride in an elevator four times a day but the time you remember is when the thing stalls between floors and you feel yourself suffocating on a fellow passenger's cigar smoke.
The two-part film, Sunday and Monday nights at 9 on Channel 4, recounts the case of Joe Hunt, convicted of murdering a Beverly Hills con man who had hoodwinked him in a business deal. Hunt founded a corporation called BBC and some of its members, the film says, were complicit in this killing and another. But since not all these cases have yet been settled in court, fake names are used for everyone but Hunt and his first victim.
Supposedly the case can be read as an indictment of youthful achievers' materialist values, but as dramatized by Gy Waldron and callously directed by Marvin J. Chomsky, no coherent resonance comes through. It's just a swank thudding plod outfitted with a cold designer rock score. A montage of Beverly Hills shops and bistros, set to the Pet Shop Boys' "Opportunities (Let's Make Lots of Money)" seems to endorse the yuppies' values rather than deplore them.
The script screams tedium almost from the outset. Waldron insists on cutting back and forth between court testimony and flashbacks for all four hours of the film. It's a ping-pong game with few variations. Most scenes are short and illustrate what has just been said on the witness stand. These are the most talkative witnesses in history. There's no shutting them up.
Just on paper, "Boys Club" had a certain unbearability going against it. Then matters were made worse. Overexposed brat packer Judd Nelson was cast in the lead. Pronounced "led." Nelson gives a performance with flare: his eyes flare, his nostrils flare, his hair -- if such a thing is possible -- flares. His tonsils may have been flaring, too, but at least you can't see them.
"He mesmerized everybody," it is said of Joe Hunt. And we're looking at Judd Nelson and wondering how this lump could mesmerize a kitten even if he had three balls of yarn and a pound of catnip. Nelson not only stars, he is billed above the title, something almost never done in TV movies. Perhaps it's on the basis of Nelson's whirlwind career in flop theatrical films.
Actually, there are several actors among those cast as BBC members who might have made something interesting of the role. They include John Stockwell, Barry Tubb and Fredric Lehne. Even the overly emphatic Raphael Sbarge might have been able to wrest the part from the one-dimensional trap Waldron sprang on it.
Instead these guys -- rich prep-school alumni who become Hunt's followers -- stand around staring at each other and wondering if Joe is all right in the head. On the stand their eyes glisten righteously as they meticulously recall every detail of every conversation they ever had. Joe grabbed them with his cynical Nietzsche-nomics. "People are not a problem; only capital is a problem," he says.
"There are no absolutes," the ex-loner and one-time bookworm tells associates. "There's no black and no white. Just shades. Depending on how you look at it, white is black and black is white." What a captivating spiel! No one seems to entertain the notion that Joe is a tad psychotic even when, after the killing, he discusses it loudly on the street, recalling that so many shots were fired into the victim that his "brain jumped out of his skull and landed on his chest. It was kind of neat, in a weird way."
We seem to be in "Compulsion" territory, though the motive here was purely financial gain. No significant conclusions are drawn by the filmmakers, however; this was strictly a matter of nailing down those rights, slapping an exploitive script together, and getting the thing on the screen. The motive was purely financial gain again.
One of the film's many lacks is women. The women in these boys' lives appear to have played strictly peripheral roles. It's a relief and a refreshment when, in Part Two, Jill Schoelen takes the stand as a character called Amy Whitehall and falls apart, pausing in her sobs to turn to the judge and ask, "Could I have a tissue, your honor?"
It's one of the few recognizable human moments in the whole horrid ordeal. Perhaps the film would have been even more offensive if it had turned into a national lynching party for yuppies. But the characters are never made to seem representative of anything except bad writing. They're more like zombies than yuppies, and "Billionaire Boys Club" is more like sclerosis than diversion.