*/**** Image B Sound B-
starring Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, Melanie Griffith, Morgan Freeman
screenplay by Michael Cristofer, based on the novel by Tom Wolfe
directed by Brian De Palma
by Walter Chaw Based on Tom Wolfe's instantly-legendary (and instantly-dated, truth be known) novel about the upper crust of Manhattan society in the '80s, Brian De Palma's The Bonfire of the Vanities is a disaster mitigated now and again by the odd extraordinary shot--exhibit A in what happens when too much money is spent in the creation of too sure a thing. The production was besieged by distraction and calamity, all of it captured in Julie Salamon's The Devil's Candy in what, after watching the movie again for the first time since its release, seems too measured a hatchet job. After all, Salamon's book is really just proof of what's evidenced on screen and observed by contemporary audiences: Decisions were made to pander to the lowest common denominator, and say what you will about the lowest common denominator, but it often knows when it's being condescended to. More, it confirms that Bruce Willis was outmatched by the demands of the material; that Tom Hanks was disengaged; that Melanie Griffith was badly miscast; and that Morgan Freeman was inserted as a sop to an African-American community that not only would have to endure multiple comic-effect uses of the word "nigger" during the course of the film, but would likely never go see it in the first place. The great irony of pandering to the lowest common denominator in an adaptation of an arch Tom Wolfe novel, is...well, you finish it. Frankly, when you can't get Peter Travers to like it, you're in seriously deep shit.