Larry (Billy Crystal) is a creative writing teacher who’s bitter about his ex-wife (Kate Mulgrew) stealing his story idea and using it to write a successful novel that has made her rich and famous while he wallows in the realm of writer’s block. Owen (Danny DeVito) is a writing student taking one of Larry’s classes who is stuck living with his miserable mother (Anne Ramsey) who he’d like to see dead. After watching the movie Strangers on a Train he comes up with what he thinks is a brilliant solution. He’ll murder Larry’s ex-wife while Larry in turn will murder his Momma. Owen does his part, but Larry is reluctant to pull his end of the ‘deal’.
DeVito gets a lot of accolades for his acting, but in many ways I think he is an even better director and doesn’t get enough credit for it. This movie was way ahead-of-its-time and ushers in many interesting juxtapositions and edits that we take for granted now, but was considered quite novel back then. I loved the close-up of Owen’s Hawaiian shirt with palm trees and then a jet plane formatted over it, which is used to cut to the next scene as well as the scene showing Larry’s students sitting in class and then the camera panning over in one take to Larry sleeping on the sofa in his apartment. The segments with a camera spinning around the characters is good and gives it a very Hitchcock feel especially the one with Larry lying on the floor as the camera rotates above him, but the best directorial touch is when Owen goes bowling while imagining that the pins are his mother.
Ramsey’s performance as the ultimate mother from hell is another selling point and one that has made this a cult classic. The fact that the woman was dying of cancer at the time and was in severe pain during the entire time that the movie was being filmed makes it all the more impressive. My only complaint is that it would’ve been nice had there been at least one moment where her character revealed a softer side and made her seem at least slightly human. I also felt that her eventual demise was quite unimaginative especially for a film that was otherwise very creative.
DeVito scores as well in his performance of the nebbish grown son in a character that could’ve easily been unlikable had it not been perfectly balanced, which he does marvelously. Crystal is excellent as a sort of sane everyman stuck in a very insane situation. His best part comes when he paces his house endlessly while trying desperately to come up with the opening sentence of his novel, which I found to be one of the funniest moments in the movie and something every struggling writer can relate to.
The wrap-up is a bit too good natured and works against the story’s otherwise dark comical roots, but it still gets a few points for showing Owen’s children’s pop-up book that he made, which illustrates the film’s scenario.
Based on the 1973 William Goldman novel, who also wrote the screenplay, a grandfather (Peter Falk) arrives to read to his sick grandson (Fred Savage) a fairytale. Initially the grandson is more interested in playing video games, but soon finds himself enraptured with the story despite his initial reluctance. The tale involves a country girl named Buttercup (Robin Wright) who falls in love with a farmhand named Westley (Cary Elwes). When Buttercup mistakenly thinks that Westley has been killed by some pirates she agrees to marry Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon) only to end up getting kidnapped before her wedding and saved by Westley who was never dead to begin with. The two then must fight off the evil Prince who still insists on marry Buttercup and doing away with Westley.
The film, which was directed by Rob Reiner and produced by his former ‘All in the Family’ creator Norman Lear, is engaging from beginning to end and filled with endlessly funny dialogue and exciting adventures that remain pleasantly amusing throughout. My favorite moment is seeing a completely unrecognizable Billy Crystal hamming it up as an old man magician who tries to revive Westley while sounding like a comedian from vaudeville.
The special effects are impressive especially the shot showing Buttercup’s three kidnappers climbing a rope up a steep mountain while being followed close behind by Westley. To me though the best part is when Westley gets attacked by what appears to be a giant rodent that, with the exception of his fake looking fur, looks amazingly real and not like a stuntman in a body suit or a computerized image.
The performers are well cast with my favorite being former wrestler Andre the Giant who steals it despite having no acting experience and at times difficulty enunciating his words. The only negative is Christopher Guest as a six fingered man who supposedly attacked the Mandy Patinkin character when he was a child, but now that Patinkin has grown he faces Guest again even though Guest looks to be practically his same age and not someone who should be significantly older.
The story is basic and lacks the grandiose and dark quality that many of the classic Grimm fairytales possess. The banter between the grandson and Grandfather is fun and I wished it had cut back-and-forth between the two and the story more often than it does. The context is simple and straight forward and its ‘message’ of teaching kids to learn to enjoy reading is a bit too obvious, but overall as non-think escapism it scores a bullseye and through the years has managed to acquire a strong cult following.
Lionel (Billy Crystal) is a lonely young man of 24 who lives next to his obtrusive mother (Doris Roberts) and has never been with a woman. When his friend Danny (Alex Rocco) comes home from the service they go out to a war veteran’s social where he has sex with actress Sheree North on top of a bowling pinball machine and inexplicably becomes pregnant. This creates an uproar in both the media and medical world and turns Lionel into an unwanted celebrity.
This was the one and only movie directed by Joan Rivers. Like with her personality it can be mildly funny at times, but is mostly abrasive and crass. The film lacks any cinematic style and was originally shot on video. The plot is limp and the whole thing seems more like a gag reel than a movie. Her attempts at recreating the comic style of Mel Brooks, Woody Allen or even John Waters fails miserably and the viewer is left with one big amateurish mess.
Ninety-nine percent of the humor is crude and stupid and deals heavily in racial stereotypes making one almost thankful for political correctness. Some of the worst bits include the portrayal of Lionel’s Mexican-American students as being utterly infantile and the only way to get rid of them is to yell ‘immigration’. There is also a segment where Lionel travels to Africa and watches a ventriloquist act where a black man has a dummy on his lap that is played by midget actor Billy Barty in blackface. The film also takes potshots at elderly people, fat people, people with disabilities and even Jews. None of the jokes are funny and are often cruel and in the poorest of taste.
Crystal in his film debut is the only good thing about the movie and is likable enough to help elevate it to some degree. Paul Lynde is amusing as a gynecologist and had he had more screen time it would have helped. Roberts score a few points in the caricature of a meddlesome mother as does George Gobel as the hick president. Michael Keaton also makes his film debut here, but it is in a non-speaking role as a sailor and if you blink you’ll miss him.
There is also never any explanation for exactly how Lionel becomes pregnant nor do we see the delivery or what type of baby it is which is annoying and dumb. It is almost like a bunch of twelve-year-olds got together to write the script and in many ways I think they could have done better. The film’s posters are funnier than anything you’ll see in the actual movie.