Isn’t it great that the studios release all the cinematic turds at the beginning of the year so that our lowered expectations allow us to appreciate the later, competent movies all the more? This time Sherman’s March through the multiplex makes its stop in Verplanck, New York. The one bit of history this upstate New York hamlet possesses is the glory of being the first U.S. test market for the Yugo. For those that don’t remember this classic automobile, let’s just say that you might have bought one if you couldn’t afford anything as fancy as a Honda Civic.
What’s the significance? Aside from the fact that every character that doesn’t drive a pickup truck drives one of them, not much. It’s just one more thick, gooey layer of silliness lathered onto a film smothered by quirks for quirks’ sake.
Of course, Mona Dearly (Bette Midler) of the title is driving one in the opening when she plunges, brakeless, over a cliff and into the lake. Broadway musical-loving police chief Wyatt Rash (Danny DeVito) suspects foul play. Unfortunately for him, as Mona was justifiably the most hated person in town, nearly everyone had a motif to kill her, including her battered, philandering husband, Phil (William Fichtner), and her one-handed son, Jeff (Marcus Thomas). The guy with the most reasons to off Mona is actually Jeff’s business partner, Bobby Calzone (Casey Affleck, unrecognizable in a wig and fake voice). The nicest guy in town, Bobby freaks when suspicion falls on him soon before his wedding to Wyatt’s daughter, Ellen (Neve Campbell). Humiliating wigs and haircuts ensue.
Director Nick Gomez is better known for darker flicks like “Laws of Gravity” and “New Jersey Drive” or his television work for “Homicide: Life on the Street”, “Oz”, and “The Sopranos”. Even with a talented cast, he seems lost in executing a broad comedy like this. There’s no real conviction to the humor and the tone slides all over the place. The yucks come out loud and mean but not funny, not even when coming from Bette Midler. Screenwriter Peter Steinfeld seems to be struggling to create a “There’s Something About Mary” as a whodunnit, but he doesn’t have a director with the Farrelly brothers instincts or commitment.
It’s surprising that we haven’t suffered a bigger rash of broad, “Mary”-style laugh-fests, though “The Debtors”, a better film, is currently stuck in a lawsuit. We should be thankful for the rarity as movies like this are incredibly difficult to make successfully. As Nick Gomez can now attest, unrestrained quirkiness and screaming all the dialogue does not equal comedy gold. It really only equals a “Saturday Night Live” sketch.