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‘Bright Lights, Big City’

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 01, 1988

 


Director:
James Bridges
Cast:
Michael J. Fox;
Kiefer Sutherland;
Phoebe Cates;
Swoosie Kurtz;
Frances Sternhagen;
John Houseman;
Jason Robards Jr.;
Dianne Wiest;
William Hickey
R
Under 17 restricted


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Jay McInerney has adapted his cult novel "Bright Lights, Big City," a fictional requiem for the drug-snorter set, with coke- cutting perfection. And director James Bridges (a last-minute replacement for Joyce Chopra) infuses this Manhattan drug-recovery tale with an appropriate rush of humor, pounding dance-club music and breakneck momentum.

As main-man Jamie Conway, a would-be author taking bleary-eyed, runny-nosed stock of himself, Michael J. Fox doesn't seem the ideal casting choice at first. It's hard to believe Fox-as-Jamie could even conceive of writing a book, let alone utter the caustic and witty narration he's credited with. Nonetheless, Fox's trademark shtick of perpetual bewilderment (perfected in "Teen Wolf" and "Back to the Future") and engaging demeanor -- and dire plight, in this case -- gets through.

Jamie is already out of control when we meet him, thanks to a dangerous partnership with yup-rake Tad Allagash (a sardonic Kiefer Sutherland) who engages Jamie in regular treks to "the heart of the night" (where there are "dances to be danced, drugs to be hoovered and women to be Allagashed"). This red-eyed life of bar-hopping and back-room sniffings is Jamie's protection from real-life tragedies -- including Amanda, his fashion-model wife (Phoebe Cates; beautiful; functional) who deserted him for a French designer, and the death of his mother (Dianne Wiest; functional) a year back.

Jamie's only "reality" is a daytime job of checking obscure facts for a highfalutin literary magazine, where dragon-lady editor Clara Tillinghast (a suitably prim Frances Sternhagen) is waiting for the right moment to fire him for incompetence.

It's just a matter of time before everything falls apart and Jamie's staring at his bloody nose in the mirror. Along the gruesome road to self-discovery, "Bright Lights" offers some entertaining, episodic, danceable highlights. The most memorable is possibly Jamie and Tad's attempt at revenge on Ms. Tillinghast, with a live ferret.

There is also, to be sure, a coming-to-terms with significant women living and dead, as well as a stirring cameo by Jason Robards as besotted, absent-minded writer Alex Hardy. But, despite the eventual housecleaning that "justifies" all this druggy indulgence, you can't help thinking what a nice buck McInerney stands to make on the infamous narcissism of this brat generation.

   
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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