The Bonfire Of The Vanities

One of the bona fide box-office and critical bombs of 1990, this adaptation of Tom Wolfe's best-selling novel is a windfall of waste. It's a great-looking film with a great-looking cast, it had some of Hollywood's top talent behind the cameras, and a budget of more than $45 million, but it lacks bite and conviction and utterly failed to strike a single...read more

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One of the bona fide box-office and critical bombs of 1990, this adaptation of Tom Wolfe's best-selling novel is a windfall of waste. It's a great-looking film with a great-looking cast, it had some of Hollywood's top talent behind the cameras, and a budget of more than $45 million, but

it lacks bite and conviction and utterly failed to strike a single spark, much less catch fire.

Tom Hanks stars as top Wall Street bond trader Sherman McCoy, a self-styled "Master of the Universe" who wheels and deals in hundreds of millions of other people's dollars every day to ever-exploding profits. Besides his great job, he has a prim and proper wife, Judy (Kim Cattrall), a plush

Manhattan apartment, and a sexy mistress, Maria (Melanie Griffith). Both Sherman and his perfect world begin to come undone when he runs over a would-be mugger after he and Maria get lost in the South Bronx. They neglect to report the incident and hope to return to their normal lives, but the

plight of the comatose mugger, Henry Lamb (Patrick Malone), comes to the attention of a self-interested community activist, Reverend Bacon (John Hancock). Bacon turns the case into a major controversy, while an alcoholic tabloid reporter (Bruce Willis) sees the story as a chance to revive his

sagging career. The police and media eventually close in on Sherman, who is arrested and charged with the crime. The remainder of the film is a predictable and excruciating slide from grace.

By necessity, screenwriter Michael Cristofer trimmed most of the underpinnings of Wolfe's sprawling, reactionary bestseller. Reduced to pure plot, the narrative is not so much a sendup of 1980s hypocrisy as an orgy of banal, juvenile mean-spiritedness. The irony of Wolfe's book becomes shrill,

screaming sarcasm, unpleasant, and, worse, unfunny. But the film's biggest weakness is one it shares with the novel: its problematic protagonist. In both book and film, Sherman McCoy is implausibly passive for a Wall Street "Master of the Universe"; his failure to take decisive control of his own

fate lasts virtually up to the final scene.

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