You know how when you settle in to see a movie billed as a hard-boiled espionage thriller with some sex thrown in, you reflexively expect to enjoy a story in which people talk in a tough-assed way, do dirty deeds, wave shiny guns around, and have heartless sex? And that way, when the characters fulfill those expectations, the story pays off? Good, well, kiss that logic goodbye for Bad Company.
If I tell you that Laurence Fishburne plays an expressionless ex-CIA man who signs on as an operative at the Grimes Organization, a rogue joint that makes its money doing dirty work for rich clients, I still can't prepare you for Fishburne's affectless performance as a hired automaton. If I explain that Ellen Barkin, as a company colleague, is obviously bad news because one eyebrow is perpetually arched, the right side of her mouth is perpetually curled, and she vamps like a road-company Catwoman dressed in black skirts rejected for ''The Last Seduction,'' that still doesn't square with the faint aura of hard exhaustion she gives off trying to be hot and cold at once. (If I add that Frank Langella plays the unsmiling iceman who is Grimes, you won't be surprised.)
Mystery writer Ross Thomas wrote the script, which clanks like the thing was soldered together out of scrap metal taken from a dozen other examples of the genre. Director Damian Harris (''Deceived'') tries for mood but settles for shadowy lighting, designer interiors, and, as a kind of centerpiece, a grinding sex scene between Barkin and Fishburne, both clothed, in which she straddles him in a chair, harsh and businesslike, for a bout of simulated arousal but no real heat. This sexual position is evidently the preferred contemporary-movie shorthand way of saying: Watch out men, virago in charge.
There is, however, at least one person having unhinged fun in this tone-deaf piece of noise. Spalding Gray (Swimming to Cambodia), as a businessman who hires the Grimes Organization to bribe a judge, creates a character so excessively eccentric that he appears to be in another movie altogether The Importance of Being Earnest, I think. With luck, he'll turn his experience in Bad Company into another theatrical monologue. And we'll finally be able to learn why everyone in this particular hard-boiled egg wears such expensive sunglasses when they're in the dark.D