TERMINAL BLISS is an upper-class adolescent-angst melodrama that, although well-intentioned and heartfelt, mines the same ground as ORDINARY PEOPLE, PERMANENT RECORD, LESS THAN ZERO, HEATHERS and THE GRADUATE with less than enriching results.
Alex Golden (Timothy Owen) and John Hunter (Luke Perry) are two childhood friends from upper-class surroundings who have seen better days. Now in high school, these two prematurely dissolute youths spend their time driving around, going to parties, and getting high with their chums--Grateful Dead
freak Craig Murphy (Alexis Arquette), drug dealer Bucky O'Connell (Micah Grant) and Bucky's hopped up girlfriend Kirsten Davis (Sonia Curtis). But the arrival of Alex's new girlfriend Stevie Bradley (Estee Chandler) sends Alex's friendship with John into a tailspin and it's not long before he
finds John and Stevie snorting cocaine and having sex together, driving Alex into drug rehab and compelling Stevie to have an abortion.
In the meantime, John becomes more and more obnoxious. In spite of that, Stevie and Alex still socialize with him. At a birthday bash for Stevie's little sister, Tanya (Heather Jones Challenge), John convinces Alex and Stevie to come with him to his parents' lakehouse retreat. Alex and Stevie
reluctantly agree to go and, as they wait for John, John rapes Tanya. Tanya says nothing about the incident to Stevie and off they go to the lakehouse, where John acts even more overbearing than usual. Stevie, disgusted by John, asks Alex if she can sleep in his room. In the morning, John and Alex
go out on the lake to secure the lines on John's boat. When John submerges to tie down the anchor line, his foot gets caught in the rope and he drowns as Alex sits nonplussed in the rowboat. After John drowns, Alex goes back to the lakehouse and lies down with Stevie and they both silently cry.
The emotional problems of spoiled, rich teens with money to burn is not a subject that elicits much sympathy from movie audiences. This is not to say that the emotional turmoil of the upper classes cannot make for an interesting, thought-provoking film. (Woody Allen, after all, has been doing it
for years.) But the world of TERMINAL BLISS, as envisioned by writer-director Jordan Alan, is a hermetically sealed and uninvolving world of cars, parties, sex and drugs. Reality does not intrude for a minute and the audience is shown no perspective beyond the stunted psyches of Alex and
John--only fleeting hints of a larger world of parents, school and nascent responsibility.
Unfortunately, the psyches of Alex and John are empty shells. Alex begins the film as a cynical manic-depressive and ends the film as a cynical manic-depressive. The audience is given no clue as to why he feels such a deep attachment to John or why John's stealing Alex's girlfriend would land him
in a drug clinic. John enters the film as a white-bread Staggerlee and simply becomes more intense as the film progresses--so much so that, by the time John gets to the lakehouse with Alex and Stevie, he enters the scene over a clap of thunder. John comes across as an other-worldly reprobate, the
reasons for his actions obscure and unexplained. The other characters may be attracted to him for his boorishness, but when he drowns at the film's end, the audience is left untouched and unmoved.
It doesn't help matters any that Alan strives for unoriginality. Practically every scene in the film can be traced to another film of the same genre--the wild parties from LESS THAN ZERO, the graduation present for John from THE GRADUATE, the morose hero from ORDINARY PEOPLE. The cliches come
thick and fast, riding roughshod over any attempt to create an original dramatic piece. This wholesale borrowing from other films creates a moviegoing deja vu that causes one to reflect wistfully upon coke-snorting Robert Downey Jr. and anguished Timothy Hutton.
The performances, too, are stilted and overly familiar; these actors play their roles like they're in a sexed up ABC Afterschool Special. Timothy Owen whines and moans his way through his part like a cranky Steve Wright, and Estee Chandler can merely smile gamely through her unbelievable role as
Stevie. Luke Perry attempts a star turn a la James Dean, but the character of John is so reprehensible that Perry's efforts at charm fall extremely flat, making the character that much more distasteful. TERMINAL BLISS is, itself, terminal. (Substance abuse, sexual situations, profanity.)
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- Released: 1992
- Rating: R
- Review: TERMINAL BLISS is an upper-class adolescent-angst melodrama that, although well-intentioned and heartfelt, mines the same ground as ORDINARY PEOPLE, PERMANENT RECORD, LESS THAN ZERO, HEATHERS and THE GRADUATE with less than enriching results. Alex Golden… (more)