Tag Archives: Ted Danson

Just Between Friends (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Friends share same guy.

Holly (Mary Tyler Moore) and Sandy (Christine Lahti) become friends while attending an aerobics class. Holly then invites Sandy over to her home for dinner unaware that Sandy is having an affair with her husband Chip (Ted Danson). Sandy is equally unaware that the man she is seeing is her new best friend’s mate. After the awkward experience is over Sandy decides to call off her relationship with Chip only to have him die unexpectedly a little bit later. Sandy then tries to help Holly get back on her feet, but without ever confiding with her that she was at one time ‘the other woman’. When Holly is cleaning out her husband’s office she comes across incriminating photographs of Sandy and Chip together and decides to angrily confront her with it.

One of the biggest drawbacks to the film is the casting of Moore in the lead. She’s an actress I’ve always liked, but here she is too old for the part. She was already pushing 50 at the time and Danson, who was 11 years younger, comes off more like an older son than a husband. In fact the opening shot has an extreme close-up of her where you can clearly see the age lines etched on her face making her later conversation where she asks her hubby if they should have another child seem utterly absurd. The intended idea of showing how completely opposite Holly and Sandy are seems more like a generation gap than contrasting personalities and watching Moore in an exercise outfit is genuinely disturbing as she is too thin and her ribs jut right through her shirt.

Lahti’s character is crass and snarky and not at all likable. The idea that she would know nothing about the personal life of the man she was seeing isn’t believable. Now I’ve never been involved in an affair, but I would think if someone is really into someone else, even if it is as the other woman, they’d want to know as much about him as they could including having some knowledge about who he was married to instead of being completely in the dark with what they were up against.

The affair angle gets introduced too suddenly and then right away she gets invited over to Holly’s for dinner and the awkwardness ensues, which isn’t half as funny or compelling as it could’ve been. The film should’ve shown how the affair began as well as to why Chip was unhappy with Holly, which never gets thoroughly explained, and then had the dinner scene played out later on when the viewer was more engrossed with the situation and characters.

There is also a lot of embarrassing comedy that gets mixed into the already cringy drama and only helps to unnecessarily prolong the scenes. The satirical jabs at the on-air news talent are particularly poor as it exaggerates how dumb they are in a film that is supposedly trying to be realistic otherwise. I don’t exactly know what writer/director Allan Burns has against newscasters, but both he and James L. Brooks produced the ‘Mary Tyler Moore Show’, which portrayed Ted Baxter, the newscaster on that series, as being a complete imbecile and here the news anchors are shown in much the same way, but by this time it comes off like an old, overplayed joke.

Having Danson die in the middle was a big mistake as his character was the only thing that brought in any interesting dramatic tension and the film flat lines the rest of the way without him. Allan Burns had some success producing TV-series despite the dubious distinction of having created ‘My Mother the Car’, but clearly making movies was beyond his capabilities and it’s no surprise that he never directed another film after this one.

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Released: March 21, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 50 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Allan Burns

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD (MGM Limited Edition Collection), Amazon Video, YouTube

A Fine Mess (1986)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: They buy a piano.

Spence (Ted Danson) works as an actor and during a break in shooting, which is being done at a local horse track, decides to take a rest in a nearby horse stall. While he is there he overhears a conversation between two men (Stuart Margolin, Richard Mulligan) in the next stall discussing how they are going to inject a horse with a drug that will cause him to run faster and therefore make him a ‘sure thing’ in the his next scheduled race. Spence decides to use this information to bet on the horse and make a killing at the track with the help of his friend Dennis (Howie Mandel), but the bad guys realize that they’ve been found out and try to nab Spence and Dennis before they are able to place the bet. Spence and Dennis try to hide from their pursuers by attending an auction where they inadvertently purchase a piano, which they must later deliver to a rich customer (Maria Conchita Alonso) who is dating a mobster (Paul Sorvino).

I was genuinely shocked at how limp and threadbare this script was and how it routinely resorted to some of the most empty-headed humor I’ve ever seen. Much of it consists of long and extended chase sequences that aren’t particularly exciting or imaginative and rely on gags that we’ve all seen a million times before.

The casting is also off. Margolin can be a great character actor, but not in this type of role and Mulligan’s dumb guy routine and facial muggings is to me the epitome of lame. Danson doesn’t seem particularly adept at physical humor and shows no real chemistry with his co-star. Sorvino, who walks around with a limp, gets a few chuckles, but believe it or not I came away liking Mandel the best and actually found him to my surprise to be the most normal person in the movie.

The intention was to make this a completely improvisational exercise, which would give the actors free rein to come up with lines and scenarios as they went while relying on the broadest of story blue prints as their foundation, but the studio wanted more of an actual script and forced director Blake Edwards, who later disowned this project, to approach the thing in a more conventional way. The result is a mish-mash of nonsense that doesn’t go anywhere and makes the viewer feel like they’ve done nothing but waste their time in watching it.

All could’ve been forgiven had they at least played up the piano moving bit, which is what I was fully expecting. The inspiration was to make this a remake of the classic Laurel and Hardy short The Music Box with a scene, like in that one, where the two stars must somehow move an upright piano up a long flight of stairs. However, instead of showing this it cuts away to the next scene where the two have somehow without any moving experience gotten the piano up the stairs with apparently no hassle, but what’s the use of introducing a potentially funny comic bit if you’re not going to take advantage of it?

I still came away somewhat impressed with the way that it managed on a very placid level to at least hold my interest. I suppose in this era where scripts with a plethora of winding twists tend to be the norm one could almost deem this a ‘refreshing’ change-of-pace in its simplicity. Those that set their entertainment bar very low may enjoy it more.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 8, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Blake Edwards

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Body Heat (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lawyer kills lover’s husband.

Every Monday for the month of August I’ll review an 80’s film that has the word ‘heat’ in its title starting with this modern-day film noir classic. Ned Racine (William Hurt) is a shyster lawyer looking for some action and on one sultry hot Florida night finds it when he spots the beautiful Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner) at an outdoor concert. The two soon fall into having mad passionate sex, but there is one problem. Matty is married to Edmund (Richard Crenna) who is rich, but boring. She plants the seed in Ned’s head to kill him and thus allow the two to live happily ever after with the money they will get from his will. Ned jumps into the scheme with his eyes wide-open only to later realize after it is too late that Matty has other plans that don’t involve him and thus making him a schmuck of the first kind.

I still enjoyed Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice better, but for a modern day film noir this one isn’t bad and rates superior to most of the others. Writer/ director Lawrence Kasdan creates characters that are amoral, but fascinating. The dialogue is snappy and the production stylish without ever getting too overdone or pretentious.  The first hour is a bit slow and it takes too long to get to the killing, but once the second half kicks in it becomes a wild ride of twists and turns that remains as entertaining as ever.

The movie also has numerous references to the heat even more so than most movies that takes place in a hot climate. Overall I enjoyed this as it makes the viewer feel sweaty and muggy even if the weather outside isn’t. The sweat glistening off their naked bodies is effective and not an irritating cliché like in most other movies. The only problem I had was that Matty lives in this giant, luxurious mansion and yet must rely on fans and open windows to cool off when in reality the place would have been wired with indoor air conditioning.

Turner, in her film debut, looks stunning and it is just unfortunate that due to illness and age she no longer looks anything like she did here. Her nude scenes are brief and from far away, but still hot.

Hurt is excellent as usual, but the character was a bit irritating. I realize that the guy is thinking with his penis and not his brain, but it still seemed hard to believe that he wouldn’t once just for a second step back and contemplate whether he was being set-up especially since her ‘tactics’ to convince him to do it weren’t in any way novel or sophisticated. The minute she brings up wanting to change the will like she does here so that she gets all the money instead of Edmund’s ex-wife should have been a red flag to even the dumbest and horniest of males that this woman is in love only with money and a good signal that he is being used and to dump her.

Ted Danson looking almost unrecognizable in horn-rimmed glasses is a stand-out in support and almost ends up stealing the film as Ned’s lawyer buddy. He also gets the movies best line. As everyone is sitting in a smoke filled room looking over the will and someone offers him a cigarette he states “No thanks. I don’t need any. I’ll just breathe in the air.”

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: August 28, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 53Minutes

Rated R

Director: Lawrence Kasdan

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube