The Last Fantasy of Joe Eszterhas: "Jade" (1995) Movie Review
In 1995, the career of famous screenwriter Joe Eszterhas took a massive plunge. The man behind hits such as Flashdance (1983), Jagged Edge (1985), Basic Instinct (1992) and Sliver (1993) among others, would struggle to find work after that year, an unlikely position for a man then well known for selling his scripts for millions of dollars. Following 1995, Eszterhas, whose films allegedly grossed over two billion dollars, would get only three of his scripts produced in Hollywood (in 1997) but all were low-key projects that became commercial failures. What could have possibly happened? What happened is the release of two films written by Eszterhas within a month; Showgirls (released September 22, 1995) and perhaps more importantly, Jade (released October 13, 1995). The latter, a serious erotic thriller, became a massive bomb upon release, grossing $10,000,000 in the U.S. only against its massive $50,000,000 budget. The movie was also a total critical failure and is now largely forgotten, while Showgirls is now considered a guilty pleasure or a cult classic and made its money back easily on the home video market (despite its initial bad performance at the box office). Interesting fact: both films were nominated for the Worst Screenplay at the Golden Raspberry Awards but Showgirls ultimately "won". Showgirls is also now one of Eszterhas and director Paul Vehoeven's most famous films (often quoted as one the best so-bad-it's-good-film), while Jade's only legacy is that it shattered the careers of its leading actors and director, William Friedkin, while also compromising the commercial viability of the erotic thriller genre.
The film was a troubled production, especially due to the bad relationship between Joe Eszterhas and the chosen director, William Friedkin, who admitted later that he basically rewrote Eszterhas's whole script (something the screenwriter famously hates). Eszterhas disliked the new script so much that he wanted his name removed from the credits but he backed off after Paramount gave him a blind script deal reportedly worth 2-4 million. There was also a lot of trouble finding leading actors for the film. Warren Beatty (?!) was the first choice to play the protagonist but he backed out and the role went to the TV star David Caruso (then famous for NYPD Blue). Chazz Palminteri's role was offered to Kenneth Branagh, who also refused. To play the crucial role of the titular femme fatale, Julia Roberts, Sharon Stone (obviously) and Linda Fiorentino were considered but all turned it down. However, Friedkin's rewrites helped Fiorentino change her mind and she ultimately accepted, probably hoping like Caruso that Jade would make them A-list stars like Basic Instinct did for Sharon Stone in 1992...
So what about the film itself? To get a basic idea of the plot, think Basic Instinct light. The plot is strikingly similar to that other (and much better) Eszterhas movie, released just 3 years before. The monstrous success of that film meant that copycats would follow and they did, with films like Body Of Evidence (1993), Sliver (1993), Color of Night (1994), etc. Anyway, Jade's plot goes something like this:
Assistant D.A. David Corelli (Caruso) is trapped between friendship and the law when the brutal murder of an important San Francisco millionaire points toward his former lover and college friend, Trina Gavin (Fiorentino), a beautiful woman with a mysterious alter ego. As details of the murder victim's sexual escapades emerge, Corelli uncovers evidence that the victim was blackmailing a powerful politician with incriminating photographs. But as the crucial witnesses are systematically murdered and attempts on Corelli's life are made, the case assumes a paranoid veneer in which nothing is certain and no one can be trusted (blu-ray.com).
Oh, and the film is also set in San Franciso and features an over-the top car chase as an important plot point. There is not much in the film we have not seen before... Joe Eszterhas was clearly running out of ideas! However, while Basic Instinct ended with the audience still unsure of who the killer was (then making the film a joy to revisit), Jade reveals the identity of the mysterious killer at the end in a way that couldn't be more anticlimactic (he simply admits it and then the film is over). It is not shocking and doesn't make much sense. The credits roll and I was like, that's it? Being an erotic thriller, what about the sex scenes? Oh boy, there is not much worth mentioning here. The sex scenes really tame compared to it's 1992 counterpart. There is some S&M involved but nothing really shocking or arousing. At the time of its initial release on VHS, there was an unrated version with 12 minutes of additional footage that was made available that is sadly out of print now due to poor sales of it. I never saw it as the DVD and Blu-ray releases only contain the theatrical version.
In my mind, the biggest mistake in the making of Jade was the casting of David Caruso. Don't get me wrong, he is very effective in CSI : Miami and NYPD Blue but to me, he is very bland looking and doesn't have the screen presence required for a film like Jade. I believe films like Basic Instinct and Sliver were successful partly due to the appeal of their leading actors. David Caruso doesn't have William Baldwin's good looks or the magnetism and intensity of Michael Douglas. The film would have greatly benefited of Warren Beatty's presence in the role as it would have elevated it to a whole other level. At the Golden Raspberry Awards that year, Caruso was nominated as Worst New Star but lost out to Elizabeth Berkley for Showgirls. After Jade, Caruso starred again in a few unsuccessful films before returning to TV with CSI : Miami which allowed him to find great success. Linda Fiorentino, on the other hand, fares much better in the film. She looks stunning in most scenes and has the right attitude for the femme fatale. She manages to look dangerous and in control AND intimidated easily. She had played another femme fatale in 1994's The Last Seduction and this was probably the film that allowed her to be considered for Jade (she gave a really great performance in that one). Fiorentino never really made in in the A-list and I only recall seeing her in Men In Black (1997) as the villain. Yet another underrated actress... Interesting fact: Caruso and Fiorentino starred together again in the 1998 crime thriller Body Count, which was badly received at test screenings and released straight-to-video.
The main cast also includes Chazz Palminteri as Carelli's friend and Katrina's husband. His role seems to be a supporting one as he doesn't have much to do in the film but we realize at the end he was the killer all along. That big reveal moment is not shocking at all but I don't think it's the actor's fault. I actually like his line delivery at the end when he says :
-Trina, the next time we make love, you introduce me to Jade.
Palminteri looks menacing when he wants to and has a lot of screen presence. He is known for playing supporting roles and I only recall seeing him in Diabolique opposite Sharon Stone in 1996. He still works a lot and also writes, produces and direct some films. The supporting cast includes Richard Crenna (well known for the Rambo films) as Senator Lew Edwards, the great Michael Biehn as Detective Bob Hargrove and Angie Everheart as prostitute Patrice Jacinto. Everheart looks really stunning and manages to steal every scene she is in only with her looks (she is a model after all). However, I think her acting is not top-notch in some scenes and her role is quite small perhaps due to that. I recall seeing her in Another 9 1/2 Weeks (1997), the terrible sequel to the 1986 classic Mickey Rourke/Kim Basinger film.
William Friedkin, famous for directing The French Connection (1971) and The Exorcist (1973), stepped in as director for Jade. He is a very talented director but his films often failed at the box office, especially after that monstrously successful 1973 movie. Some even called what happened to him "The Exorcist Curse". However, there is some great work to be seen in Jade. The opening sequence, for instance, set to Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps, is incredibly effective and sets a tone that the rest of the film will struggle to keep. But the real highlight of the movie is its incredibly over-the-top chase scene in the streets of San Francisco. This is perhaps the only aspect of Jade that is better than Basic Instinct, which also featured an over-the-top chase in SF. You can see it yourself in the video down here. Jade looks great and very expensive ($50 000 000 after all) so it is at least a beautiful thing to look at. Friedkin reportedly said that it was the favorite of all the films he had made! Sadly, following the failure of Jade, he directed only two other big budget films, Rules of Engagement (2000) and The Hunted (2003), which also became flops.
The car chase
The last element that is worth mentioning about Jade is its music. The famous two-time Academy Award winner James Horner was hired to write the musical score. He was reportedly not interested at all with the film and still got paid 3 million to do it due to Friedkin insisting. What he came up with is very boring at best. His musical contribution for the film is only 30 minutes long and Friedkin chose to use only 20 minutes of it in the finished product. Horner failed at creating anything memorable for Jade due to his lack of interest and his work on various other projects at the same time. His score is mostly orchestral and uses plenty of oriental motifs that echoes The Mystic's Dream by Loreena McKennitt. That song gives Jade its real musical identity and Horner only ripped it off. It's a gorgeously sensual song that makes my hair rise on my arms anytime I listen to it. It is used often in the film as an instrumental but when the chorus kicks in during one of the sex scenes, it creates one of Jade's few powerful moments. You can listen to it yourself down here:
The Mystic's Dream by Loreena McKennitt
While Jade remains a film I personally enjoy quite a bit, I think of it as a missed opportunity to create a terrific piece of cinema. The talent behind and in front of the camera is there. It's kind of frustrating to see so much money thrown at something that ends up so underwhelming. While it might satisfy the die-hard fans of Joe Eszterhas and William Friedkin on some levels, the average viewer will likely be turned off by this rather unsexy and incredibly generic erotic thriller. I really wish Joe Eszterhas had concentrated on creating an original and genuine Basic Instinct sequel (while it was time) instead of a rip-off of it. He paid for it as the film effectively killed off his career as a major Hollywood player. I still hope he will make a comeback with a truly shocking, sexy film. He definitely proved in the past he has the talent for it.
Thank you for reading!