By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: Ex on-the-run.
Nick (Chevy Chase) is a lonely writer working on his novel at a remote seaside cabin, which he hopes will give him the isolation that he needs to allow his creative juices to flow. Unfortunately for him two bank robbers (Judd Omen, Marc Alaimo) stake-out the place and kidnap him and then force him at gunpoint to rob a nearby bank. Nick gets seen on the security camera and a warrant for his arrest is issued. He seeks help from his ex-wife Glenda (Goldie Hawn) a public defender who has remarried to Ira (Charles Grodin) who’s running for attorney general and fears that the notoriety of having his wife’s ex-husband on-the-run from the law could hurt his chances of getting elected. Glenda decides to help Nick by letting him stay in an unused bedroom above their garage while trying to keep him hidden, so Ira won’t find out. This scheme leads to many close calls and misunderstandings while also reigniting Glenda’s feelings for Nick, which she thought she had gotten over a long time ago.
While it may seem hard to believe now screenwriter Neil Simon was at the time, having just come-off his success with the hit The Goodbye Girl , considered chic with young adults particularly on the romance end and this film was the peak of that period as after this his material became increasingly more nostalgic. This works mostly because it remains focused on Simon’s patented one-liners and funny conversational quality, which is quite amusing though it would’ve been nice had it attempted to branch out into other forms of comedy like when Chase and Grodin have a physical fight that is never shown and instead we just hear the noise of it from inside the kitchen while the camera stays stationary in the other room. The visual gags and pratfalls from a funny fight could’ve helped add another dimension to the humor and thus I found this moment to be a missed opportunity.
The acting is uniformly wonderful particularly Chase in a role that takes full advantage of his glib, sardonic delivery probably better than any other film role he’s been in and this most likely was a result of Simon doing a 2-week rehearsal period where he observed the stars interacting with each other and made changes to the script based on the personalities of the performers. It’s good to see Hawn in a more mature role. Before this she played spacey-blondes who were young and on the fringe of society, but here she falls comfortably into a middle-aged setting of a career woman maintaining both a job, home, and marriage and showing the juggling act that this type of lifestyle requires. She’s also not the sole source of humor, but instead reacts to the zaniness around her with funny facial reactions. The supporting cast such as Yvonne Wilder as the heavy-accented Latina maid and T.K. Carter as the wise-cracking chauffeur who hasn’t fully gotten rid of his old ex-con ways are quite amusing too as are the pack of dogs that Hawn owns and proceed to run all over the house at all times.
Grodin was the only character that doesn’t really fit. I found it strange why someone who doesn’t like dogs and can’t stand the way they sleep on the bed that he shares with Hawn would want to marry a woman who was so into them. Outside of the fact that they were both lawyers I didn’t see what else connected them and it seemed like a mismatched marriage. On the other-hand I found it interesting he wasn’t portrayed as a jerk. In most romances were the old partner comes back into the picture the new guy is played-up in a way that makes the viewer dislike them and where you want to see the woman going back to her old flame instead of staying with the cad, but here that’s not the case, which works to some degree, but also hurts it.
The issue with the second husband really comes into play at the very end when it becomes painfully obvious that Simon couldn’t think up a way to resolve the dilemma and comes-up with one of the dumbest finales imaginable where Hawn and Grodin go driving into the wilderness during a rain storm, have a car accident in which Grodin gets injured and she treks off into the woods only to find an isolated cabin with Chase inside. The movie stops with a freeze-frame of Hawn’s face revealing a broad smile once she sees Chase opening the door making it seem like the two spent a cozy, romantic night in the cabin while Grodin remained suffering inside his stranded car, which wasn’t exactly humane.
Personally if I had written the script I would’ve done it differently, which I realize might’ve been considered ‘too edgy’ for 1980. However, since Chase’s character had been in a Mexican prison for awhile I would’ve had the experience bring out the dormant gay side of him. This could’ve helped explained why the two criminals came to his place to force him into a bank robbery was because they were guys he knew, or former lovers, from jail and they figured out where he lived and hence tracked him down to be a part of their scheme. This would help explain the opening as having them stake out such an extremely isolated place, which didn’t seem to even have any roads leading into it, just to find a willing victim never really made much sense otherwise. The Grodin character could also have some dormant gay desires, which would explain why his sex life with Hawn wasn’t so great. Chase could then take-up permanent residence in the room above the garage where he could, at different times, ‘service’ both Hawn and Grodin and the three could share a happy alternative lifestyle, which being that the story takes place in coastal California wouldn’t have been all that outrageous or unusual.
Another possibility would be to have Grodin played-up as being more into his political career than his marriage and thus pushing Hawn away, or he could just become sick and tired of all the dogs in the bed at night and decide to leave her, which would be understandable as I wouldn’t like sleeping with dogs either. In either case Hawn would be free to run back to Chase and the audience wouldn’t have had any problem with it.
The worse scenario though is how it ends here with Hawn selfishly getting it on with Chase, or at least implying this, while the man she’s married to remains stuck in pain inside a cold, damp car for who knows how long. At some point she’s going to have to decide which guy she wants more, or if she’ll just remain hopping between the two, but some finality needed to be given instead what amounts to a pathetic cop-out by a writer who clearly didn’t want the challenge of having to figure it out.
If anything I would’ve had her with a different facial expression. During the movie she was constantly hyperventilating with this shocked look every time she’d see Chase drop-in and that’s what we should’ve seen as the film’s final image.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: December 19, 1980
Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes
Director: Jay Sandrich
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Available: DVD, Amazon Video