When erotic thrillers go wrong: the failures of ‘Jade’

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Dead Sexy: A Fortnightly Column on Erotic Thrillers

“Be David Caruso in Jade.” 

This is the advice Seth Rogen’s character gives to Steve Carrell’s character about how (not to) pull women in the 2005 sex-comedy The 40-Year-Old Virgin. With this advice from a hapless, sex-crazed stoner in tow, Steve Carrell goes on, excruciatingly awkwardly, to chat up a woman, exhibiting a complete lack of basic social skills and sexual chemistry. Perhaps nothing has summed up Jade better.

Although this column is meant to act as a reclamation of a maligned genre, it’s only fair that I also acknowledge when erotic thrillers go (very) wrong. With last week’s column praising Friedkin’s Cruising, sadly the director’s next stab at an erotic thriller, Jade, was so mind-numbingly, objectively terrible, that even a hate-watch can’t redeem it. 

With all the sleaze of the classic 90s erotic thriller with none of the camp, depth or intrigue to redeem it, Jade is a sad example of what many people wrongly think the genre typifies. We begin the ninety minutes of agony with David (David Caruso), a district attorney, who visits the murder scene of a wealthy art collector. In the man’s safe, David and two detectives find photos of the Governor of California having sex with a sex worker; they track her down, and she says that the murdered man would pay women to have sex with various powerful men at his beachhouse, and that the favourite was a woman known only as ‘Jade’. Plot twist: the fingerprints at the crime scene are identified as belonging to Katrina, David’s ex-girlfriend, whom he still loves but is now married to his best friend, lawyer Matt. The film chugs along with a series of unbelievable, yet somehow still dull, plot points, including a ridiculous car chase (to think this is the William Friedkin of the The French Connection car chase, crudely replicated here as a god-awful, overstretched, harangued and utterly tensionless version, is barely believable). 

Linda Fiorentino on a phone call naked, for no apparent reason

For all intents and purposes, Jade reads like it’s written by an A.I. robot that has watched 100 hours of erotic thriller movies and then produced a screenplay out of the jumble. Penned by the genre’s resident sleazeball, Joe Eszterhas (Basic Instinct, Showgirls, Sliver), the material just doesn’t have the right actors attached to enliven all the horribleness (Michael Douglas, conversely, is excellent at adding charisma to sleazy script). Jade is headed by an indescribably dull performance by David Caruso, who lacks an ounce of charisma; as the folks over at the Fatal Attractions Podcast say in their treatment of the film, “David Caruso is a goddamn vacuum in this movie.” Hence, why that aforementioned line from The 40-Year-Old-Virgin is pretty hilarious. Somewhere along the line, the people at the helm of erotic thrillers assumed that their audience was solely straight men, thus removing the need for an attractive (whether that’s looks, or just a certain sexual or romantic charm) male lead. Whereas actors like Douglas applied a certain level of magnetism to their ‘everyman’ roles, Caruso takes this far too literally. It doesn’t help that he’s got some of the most stupid dialogue: at one point, he gazes pensively at a murder victim who has been mutilated and nailed to a wall, and says with seriousness: “this is rage.” No shit, Sherlock! 

Supporting cast member Michael Biehn (who, for the entire film, I thought was Joe Pantoliano) pins the blame solely on Eszterhas: “To me, none of it ever really made any sense. I didn’t realize until the read-through that I was the bad guy in it. It was like a jumbled mess […] a great cast, great director… everything but a script.” Truly, the script is like a terrible student play (unnatural blocking and all), but instead of your mum saying it’s good so you show it to 50-60 unlucky souls, this time it’s a group of self-congratulatory Hollywood types. Produced by Roman Polanski collaborator Robert Evans, the people who made this film are so… visible. The editing is so ugly and mistimed that scenes aren’t so much cut, but hacked with a chainsaw. I can practically hear screenwriter Joe Eszterhas’ smarmy voice through the terrible script (“wouldn’t it just a goddamn awful shame, David, if one hairy little pussy and a thimbleful of sperm affected the future of this great state?”), while the film begins with a hackneyed, hand-held prowl through an empty house, establishing objects and symbols that will go on to signify absolutely nothing except lazy Orientalism and offensive stereotypes. 

Jade—an important mineral used often in East Asian art—is here the name of the most ‘exotic’ of the film’s sex workers; more mysterious, dirtier, more willing to do ‘debasing’ positions. This, coupled with the murdered man’s mansion being filled with Asian trinkets and artwork, results in the script making a bizarre, offensive tie between Asian culture and erotic murder. In the film’s car chase scene, David literally runs over several Asian people as they celebrate Chinese New Year. Without needing to regurgitate Edward Said’s essay Orientalism, it’s clear enough why this is, on a basic level, mean-spirited and unnecessary, if not full-on racist.  

Bizarrely, William Friedkin has been reported numerous times naming Jade as the favourite out of all his films that he has directed. Yes, this is the same man who directed The Exorcist and The French Connection. That, and this film, prove that some things are inexplicable.

Words by Steph Green

Part of Dead Sexy: A Fortnightly Column on Erotic Thrillers
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Watch Jade on Amazon 

Recommended Reading

A Discussion with William Friedkin, Cinephilia & Beyond
The Last Fantasy of Joe Eszterhas, Reel Rundown
Orientalism, Cinema, and the Enigmatic Signifier by Homay King


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