By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: Feuding between two salesmen.
Bill (Richard Dreyfuss) and Ernest (Danny DeVito) are two aluminum siding salesmen living in 1963 Baltimore who one day find themselves involved in a minor car accident. Their feuding though escalates as each blames the other for the fender bender, which leads them to vandalizing each other’s cars when the other isn’t around and even having Bill begin an affair with Ernest’s wife Nora (Barbara Hershey). Yet as a federal commission begins honing in on their unscrupulous sales practices the two find that they may need to learn to work together in order to survive.
This is one film that is hard to gauge. For the most part I liked it. The cinematography and period detail are bright and vivid and I loved the row of track houses that the DeVito character lives in. The dialogue is sharp and Dreyfuss is good at playing the type of character DeVito usually does while DeVito is surprisingly more sympathetic. In fact I felt this may be the best performances of both of their careers.
The humor though fluctuates between being subtle to farcical and the over-the-top feud between the two becomes quite strained. For one thing I didn’t think the DeVito character had enough time to be sneaking around trying to destroy Dreyfuss’s car since he was barely able to make ends meet with his job. The fact that both he and Dreyfuss destroy the other’s car, but then don’t sue or even call the police when it continues made little sense. These two watch every little penny that they have, so having Dreyfuss’s car mysteriously get repaired after it was vandalized was questionable as most insurance policies won’t cover that type of repair and it’s highly unlikely he would’ve paid for it out of his own pocket when he clearly knew who had done it.
I also had issues with the Hershey character. Her acting is outstanding, but the fact that she decides to have an affair with Dreyfuss after only a brief meeting with him while inside a grocery store seemed unlikely. For one thing this was 1963 and before the sexual revolution, so even considering an affair was filled with shame and stigma and having her openly discuss it with her friend at work seemed quite dubious. She also ends up moving-in with Dreyfuss even before was she was divorced, which was another big no-no and makes her behavior far too liberated and completely out-of-place for the time period.
The film improves as it goes along, but the incessant fighting gets overdone and quickly loses its edge. Having them learn to get along at some point was needed. It eventually does occur to some extent at the very end, but it takes way too long to get there and it should’ve happened sooner and given the story and characters an extra dimension. There is also a scene where the two get together to play a game of pool where the winner gets to have Nora, but the film then cuts away without ever showing the game getting played, which was a bit of disappointment since the scene had potential for some interesting nuances.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: March 13, 1987
Runtime: 1Hour 52Minutes
Director: Barry Levinson
Studio: Buena Vista Pictures
Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video