Bonfire of The Vanities Review

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Based on Tom Wolfe’s celebrated novel, Sherman McCoy, “Master of the Universe” and his mistress take the wrong turn off the highway, end up in the wrong neighbourhood, and make the wrong move by scarpering after knocking over a black teenager. When tabloi


A cause celebre of ignominiously huge proportions, a humbling tale of grand names undone by ego and faulty thinking, a debacle thick with controversy and misspent money: how the making of this adaptation of this most famous modern novel, echoes the satirical throes of the book itself. Shame, so little of it ended up in the actual movie. The glare of attention, where every one of poor Brian De Palma’s decisions was run through the court of public opinion, proved too much – the result was an insipid comedy of manners, miscast, edgily directed and neutered of the novel’s scabrous misanthropy. Tom Wolfe hooted with derision, how ironically apt.

People had complained of the choice of De Palma from the very beginning. Wasn’t he a man for thrillers? More a Hitchcock than the Billy Wilder-type required. The naysayers, for once, were right. He is unable to set a tone for the piece, taking it way too deep into broad comedy; it borders on outright parody. The sting of the book was in the swollen realities of the ‘80s it was truffling up from Central Park. The casting doesn’t help. Tom Hanks as a Master of the Universe, this Wall Street general plump on success and self-regard? He comes across as a foolish dolt out of his depth. How can we savour his undoing? He’s one of us.

Bruce Willis as booze sodden reporter Peter Fallow, merely the book’s narrative catalyst, is granted too much room. He obliges by hamming it all up, doing an appalling drunk dodging the accent, and barely leaving a mark on the movie’s surface.

The girls fare mildly better: Melanie Griffith, as the gold-digging mistress is all bust and bubblehead, while Kim Cattrall is deliciously icy as Wolfe’s “Social X-Ray”, the designer draped skeletons who ruled over Park Avenue. But the burble of the plot, which amplifies into a cacophony of bellowing sides by the courtroom finale, has nothing to offer them.

Sure, De Palma fills it with his inventive camera trickery, including taking us on a 14 minute tracking shot through an entire building, but the film wasn’t in need of visual fillips, it needed an edge. By the whitewashed finale, missing the whole point by a country mile, the game is truly up. A bonfire, indeed, in all but flame.

A spectacular misfire from a director who should have known better.