December 14, 1987 12:00 PM

Beverly Hills hipsters. Sex and drugs. Alienation and anomie. Three word sentences. In its dissection of disenchantment among young people with Porsches, Bret Easton Ellis’ 1985 novel featured all of the above and little else. The author, a mere 21, was heralded as a native tour guide through uncharted territory. As a study of California cynicism, the novel was discount Joan Didion. But the movie has other problems. At least in Ellis’ novel all the characters were afflicted with amorality. The film script, by Harley Peyton, reduces Ellis’ sensibilities to those of a public service announcement about drug abuse. This is Less Than Zero as it might be rewritten by Nancy Reagan. Upon coming home to Los Angeles for Christmas after his first semester of college in the East, our hero finds his girlfriend and his best friend in a drug-induced tailspin. But, instead of falling in and out of bed with both, as he did in the novel, our hero tries to rehabilitate his pals. Following Pretty in Pink and Mannequin with this colorless lead performance, Andrew McCarthy is turning into a poster boy for passivity. (Industry execs call him the Perry Como of youth movies.) As the woman in this tawdry triangle, Jami Gertz mainly gets to play a premature earth mother. Only Robert Downey Jr., as the damaged member of the crowd, survives the script; he threatens to make his outcast character the soul of the movie. Director Marek (Another Country) Kanievska finds a plethora of memorable images in Southern California, but he, too, is constrained by the script. You don’t have to be Ellis to sum up this movie in three words: Not worth much. (R)

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