The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990) – Review

1 Star

The Bonfire of the Vanities is one of the most infamous misfires of the 1990’s. The behind-the-scenes antics of the production were detailed in juicy fashion by Julie Salamon in her best-seller The Devil’s Candy. That unflattering account of the tumultuous shoot is far more entertaining than anything in this adaption of Tom Wolfe’s darkly satirical novel. This soft-boiled adaptation never had a chance to succeed, but the result is a dull, confusing, and miscast picture. Bonfires ranks up there with the worst films of 1990.

Sherman McCoy (Tom Hanks) is Wall Street’s Master of the Universe, and everything in his life is perfect. He has a fancy Mercedes, a lucrative career, a luxurious penthouse apartment, and a razor-thin wife. Then one night while riding with his greedy girlfriend, Maria (Melanie Griffith), she makes a wrong turn and winds up in the Bronx. There, she panics and accidentally runs over a black teen confronting Sherman. The pair drive off and decide not to report it to the police. Peter Fallow (Bruce Willis) is a jaded journalist who sees McCoy’s fall as a ticket to tabloid news stardom.

Bonfire of the Vanities begins with a nearly five-minute opening shot. It’s a classic Brian De Palma opening, but outside of that I couldn’t find the director’s fingerprints on any other sequence. Almost as if the film was untouched by human hands, but as Julie Salamon’s book details, too many chefs in the kitchen turned this spicy material into warmed-over leftovers. Wolfe’s original text is probably unfilmable, the character complexity, cynical outlook, and plot structure are fashioned for the novel format. All of these attributes are absent from De Palma’s adaptation.

Director: Brian De Palma
Stars: Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, Melanie Griffith, Morgan Freeman

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