By Lawrence O'Toole
Updated February 03, 1995 at 05:00 AM EST

For all their huffing about preserving artistic integrity, ”director’s cut” video versions of theatrical features have become one of the business’ biggest marketing ploys. Often, the difference is just a few snippets of skin, reinstated for video and touted as if they were crucial pieces of footage.

Such is the case with Color of Night, a quirkily comic erotic thriller that was all but ignored in its theatrical release last summer. The production did achieve some notoriety for having filmed a brief glimpse of star Bruce Willis’ penis and, in the ensuing fracas with the MPAA’s ratings board, denying a curious public the opportunity to view it. Well, now the public can have its glimpse in this director’s cut. And brief it is.

The video version of Color of Night is a really just a tease. Director Richard Rush, whose last film was 1980’s bumptious movie within a movie The Stunt Man, had a heart attack after Cinergi, Color‘s production company, took control of the film, re-edited it, and changed the ending, but this version hasn’t been changed back much. The unsatisfactory conclusion remains the same, and even with a whopping 15 minutes of additional footage, little of significance appears to have been restored. Curiously, this extended version includes the racy footage that was originally shown to the MPAA, yet this time around the ratings board saw fit to bestow the R rating it initially denied — perhaps a belated acknowledgment that the offending bits might be integral to Rush’s vision after all. And this ”director’s cut” is the only version that will be available on tape.

Possible unmet expectations aside, Color of Night remains compelling for a number of reasons. Foremost among them is Bruce Willis, who gives a quietly persuasive performance as Bill Capa, a psychologist grappling with the inability to feel emotion — or to see the color red — after unwittingly contributing to a client’s suicide. Capa’s a man having a rough time confronting where he is, personally and professionally, in his life; the terror people experience when they’re forced to look at who they really are is the real theme of Color of Night, and it’s an unusual one for a Hollywood movie.

<p. In Los Angeles to recuperate from his trauma, Capa visits and stays with his old college buddy Bob Moore (Scott Bakula), another successful therapist. Soon after Capa's arrival, Moore is brutally murdered, likely by a member of his Monday night group — a Mulligan's stew of neurotics, including a nymphomaniac, a would-be transsexual, a masochist, a neat freak, and a shut-down macho man. In a twist that seems to happen only in the movies, Capa decides to take over the group, while also becoming involved with a mystery woman (Jane March) who enters and reenters his life like quicksilver.

Not many movies bother to deal with what has become one of the most commonplace of urban activities, therapy. And while the patients here are definitely pieces of work — and often wildly entertaining in a cartoonish way — they’re not shortchanged. There’s plenty of hurting beneath the clowning; in its own oddball way, Color of Night is a comedy of pain.

Not knowing who people are is the root cause of everyone’s fear — and fantasy — in Color of Night. The only salvation they experience comes from rigorous self-examination. But the salvation at the movie’s finish comes off as emotionally fraudulent — a happy ending unworthy of the twisty, darker stuff preceding it. It makes the entire movie seem like a come-on; this director’s cut only rubs in the fact that you fell for it. B-

Color of Night

  • Movie
  • R
  • Richard Rush