By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: Whoopi hates drug dealers.
Rita Rizzoli (Whoopi Goldberg) is a narcotics cop out to nab Conrad Kroll (Harris Yulin) who she believes is behind a recent shipment of a drug called ‘fatal beauty’ that is an unusually pure type of cocaine that can prove to be instantly deadly to those who unwittingly take it. Unfortunately Kroll has too much money and connections and proves to be untouchable, so she starts an uneasy alliance with Kroll’s security man Mike (Sam Elliot) that is amusing, interesting and revealing for both parties.
Goldberg is fantastic in the lead and one of the reasons this movie works. Her personality and streetwise humor is engaging. The role was originally intended for Cher who had enjoyed working with Elliot in Mask and wanted to do another project with him, but for some reason when the part finally got offered she turned it down. I actually had a hard time seeing Cher in the part and felt Whoopi did it better. The only issue of course is that the character is a black woman, but also supposedly Italian, which doesn’t make much sense. The part where Mike tells her how much he enjoys an Italian women’s eyes seems absurd and you would have thought somebody would have realized this and altered the dialogue and the character’s name, but didn’t and this becomes the film’s biggest loophole although it is a relatively minor one that doesn’t interfere with the overall enjoyment.
The pairing of Elliot and Goldberg may initially seem odd, but for me it worked and their ongoing banter is the most entertaining thing about the movie. My only quibble is that as a sort of reconciliation gift the Elliot character buys Rita a $5,000 dress, which seemed way overboard especially when a relationship between the two had not been established.
Brad Dourif is terrific as the bad guy and weaves a nice balance between being campy and sinister. Ruben Blades is fun as Rita’s rather inept police partner and Jennifer Warren gets a funky moment when she gets into a big drawn out physical fight with Rita while in front of some shocked and refined guests at a garden party.
The only part that doesn’t really work is John P. Ryan’s as an overly-stressed police sergeant, which doesn’t gel and is not funny. Cheech Marin can be spotted in a brief bit as a bartender.
The story itself lacks originality and at times gets convoluted and even confusing. Mixing moments of humor with gritty scenes of graphic violence gives the whole thing a very uneven feel. Yet there were still some segments that I like and even got into including the part where Rita finds herself trapped and surrounded while inside a crack house. I found the dialogue to be sharp and witty and am at a loss as to why critic Leonard Maltin describes it as being ‘mind-bogglingly awful’ in his book and my only conclusion is that he just didn’t get the humor and should probably give it another view.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: October 30, 1987
Runtime: 1Hour 44Minutes
Director: Tom Holland
Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video