Brian De Palma’s take on Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities is a misfire of inanities. Wolfe’s first novel boasted rich characters and teeming incident that proved highly alluring to filmmakers. Unfortunately, De Palma was not the man for the job. It doesn’t take long to turn off and tune out on this glitzy $45 million-plus dud.
Early sequences of marital discord between Wall Street maestro Sherman McCoy (Tom Hanks) and wife Judy (Kim Cattrall) possess a grating, uncertain quality, and film never manages to locate a consistent tone. McCoy is having an affair with Southern bombshell Maria Ruskin (Melanie Griffith), and clearly stands as a symbol for Success, 1980s style. Monkeywrench arrives in the form of an automobile mishap one night in deepest Bronx.
Seemingly threatened by two black youths, Maria backs Sherman’s Mercedes into one of them, slightly injuring him. When the kid falls into a coma, the machinery of law, politics and journalism begins grinding. The rich man’s status makes him an ideal scapegoat for multifarious social ills, as well for as the personal agendas of the city’s most shameless operators, most prominently, Peter Fallow (Bruce Willis), a down-and-out alcoholic reporter who parlays the McCoy story into fame and fortune.
Unfortunately, the caricatures are so crude and the ‘revelations’ so unenlightening of the human condition, that the satire is about as socially incisive as a Police Academy entry.