Loosely based on the novel by Bret Easton Ellis, LESS THAN ZERO refuses to take the risks necessary to capture the keen social observation of the book. Clay Easton (Andrew McCarthy), a college freshman, returns home to Los Angeles for the Christmas holidays, largely because Blair (Jami Gertz), his old girlfriend, has requested it. Blair and Julian Wells (Robert Downey, Jr.), a former high-school buddy of Clay, have become an item, and now Blair wants Clay to save Julian from the downward spiral of his drug abuse. Julian is being harassed and forced to prostitute himself by the drug dealer (James Spader) to whom he owes $50,000. The filmmakers apparently felt there were no sympathetic characters in the novel, but in sanitizing and simplifying Ellis' downbeat story, transforming it into a relatively conventional love story and a didactic tragedy, they have diluted the disturbing social reality of the novel. The saving grace of LESS THAN ZERO is Downey, who gives an inspired performance. He makes his character a convincing lost cause, one the audience would rather see see saved. Gertz's performance is uneven, and McCarthy, an actor of limited range, brings what little he can to his role.