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The "Color" is Bleak
on July 8, 2002
There's a good film in here somewhere just aching to get out, but the filmmakers seem more interested in playing Box Office Wheel of Fortune than caring about the quality of the product they're trying to sell, and it makes "Color of Night," directed by Richard Rush, one of those movies that makes you shake your head and think, Ah! what could have been if only! And that single "if" makes all the difference in the world with regards to what finally winds up on the screen.
When his treatment of a patient fails and ends tragically, leaving him with some pronounced psychological damage of his own, New York psychologist Dr. Bill Capa (Bruce Willis) quits his practice and goes to Los Angeles seeking the solace and, perhaps, the help of an old friend and colleague, Dr. Bob Moore (Scott Bakula). Capa quickly discovers, however, that Moore is having problems of his own, apparently stemming from a weekly group therapy session he has been conducting for some time. Moore, it seems, has recently received some death threats, which he believes are coming from one of the patients of this particular group, though he hasn't a clue which one, nor any proof of his suspicions.
Moore invites Capa to sit in on the next group session, hoping for a fresh perspective and possibly some insights into the matter. At the moment, Capa feels incapable of actively engaging in the practice of his chosen field of endeavor, but in light of the fact that he's Bob's house guest, he acquiesces and agrees to observe the group. But it proves to be an inauspicious proposition for all concerned, and subsequent circumstances quickly put Capa at the center of just the kind of situation he left New York to avoid. Once the hand is dealt, however, he has no choice but to play it out to the end.
Rush began his career as a director with low budget exploitation films like "Too Soon to Love" in 1960, and ten films later achieved legitimate status with the highly successful black comedy, "The Stunt Man" in 1980, for which he received an Oscar nomination (along with his leading man, Peter O'Toole). He did not direct again until this film, some fourteen years later, and during that hiatus, Rush apparently lost whatever expertise he had accrued by 1980, and his "roots" are clearly showing in this one. The violence of the film is inherent in the story, but Rush makes it unnecessarily graphic; and while this could have been an incisive and insightful character study (and intrinsically more interesting), he takes the low road, fleshing it out instead with scenes of gratuitous sex and nudity, as well as superfluous action (he works in no less than two ridiculous car chases, one culminating in a vehicle being pushed from the top of a high rise parking garage). Furthermore, he ignores motivations and character development almost entirely; the two areas that required the most attention if this film was going to work at all.
Rush especially lets his actors down, inasmuch as most of these characters presented real challenges that could have been met much more successfully with the help and guidance of the director. Rush would have served his actors, as well as himself, better had he taken the time to explore these people being portrayed with some depth. He apparently did not, however, and with one exception the performances by one and all suffer for it.
In 1994, Bruce Willis simply was not the accomplished actor he is today, and he, especially, could have used some help in finding his character. it was help he obviously did not get, and his Capa ends up being too much John McClane and not enough Malcom Crowe. Willis flounders between the two personalities, creating a kind of schizophrenic characterization that seriously affects the credibility of his portrayal. And it's the same fate suffered by Scott Bakula here. Even in the scenes which places them in their "professional" setting as psychoanalysts, they are simply not convincing.
Making the case of poor directing even stronger are the performances of Lesley Ann Warren (Sondra), Brad Dourif (Clark), Ruben Blades (Lt. Martinez) and Kevin J. O'Connor (Casey). Like Willis, all of them seem to have trouble defining their individual characters, vacillating between any number of personalities and unable to achieve that necessary, final focus. It's the kind of indecisiveness that is usually resolved during rehearsals, but inexplicably made it to the screen here. The single exception is the performance turned in by Lance Henriksen, as Buck, who unlike his costars, somehow managed to find his character and make him convincing.
The odd-"woman"-out of the entire bunch is Jane March, who as Rose has perhaps the most challenging role of all, and when given the opportunity actually displays some talent. Unfortunately, Rush-- for the most part-- uses her in a way that is demeaning and without merit, and she becomes the object of a sleight-of-hand that is nothing more than a cheap trick Rush pulls out of his hat. And by failing to use her in a more productive way, by not concentrating on developing her character (which is so vital to the story), Rush commits his most critical error of all.
The supporting cast includes Eriq La Salle (Detective Anderson), Jeff Corey (Ashland), Kathleen Wilhoite (Michelle), Shirley Knight (Edith Niedelmeyer), John Bower (Medical Examiner) and Andrew Lowrey (Dale Dexter). The high note of this entire project was played before it ever even got off the ground, that being the story itself; but screenwriters Matthew Chapman and Billy Ray proceeded to methodically remove any and all credibility it may have initially contained, and Rush took it from there, taking "Color of Night" straight into that black hole reserved for movies that fail to deliver on their promise. It is not surprising that Rush has not directed a feature film since this one; once the magic is lost, it's hard to retrieve.