Sunday, March 7, 2010

Foul Play

Foul Play stars Goldie Hawn with a supporting cast that includes Chevy Chase, Burgess Meredith, Dudley Moore, and Brian Dennehy, and it was directed by Colin (Harold and Maude) Higgins.  I had never heard of the film, so I gave it a shot.  Now I know why I had never heard of it.

This 1978 movie was clearly designed as a starring vehicle for Hawn, who was still two years away from making Private Benjamin and almost ten years away from Overboard.  This was Chevy Chase's first major film role, and it's definitely a supporting one.  Brian Dennehy's career was mainly in detective TV episodes at this point.  Dudley Moore hadn't even made 10 yet, THAT'S how old this movie is.  So, the cast was just on the cusp of respectability and stardom, which could have made this a diamond in the rough, right?

Well, it could have been.  Here's the plot: Goldie Hawn accidentally gets involved with a plot to assassinate the Pope, and Officer Chevy Chase helps her try to prevent it.  That doesn't sound too bad, right?  Well, it's a slapstick comedy.  And a thriller.  And a romantic comedy.  I know what you're thinking: "Trying to kill the Pope?  That's bound to be comic gold!"  No?  Hmm...that's okay, though; if the premise doesn't get you ready for belly laughs, they threw in a dwarf, a killer albino, Japanese tourists, loneliness, the notion of rape, and Dudley Moore.  And yet, somehow, inexplicably, it never really gels together.

The performances are fine.  Hawn does her "Ooh!  I'm surprised!" look well, but her dialogue doesn't really give her much to work with.  She's treated like a prop in the film; she doesn't really act so much as she is acted upon by the other characters.  Chevy Chase is his normal back-when-he-was-funny self, and it wouldn't surprise me if he wrote or ad-libbed a good deal of his dialogue.  I'm not saying he was especially convincing as a police officer, but he was funny.  Dudley Moore was okay, I guess, as an especially horny Brit, but the best part of his scenes were the props in his bedroom.  Most of them are played up for laughs, but he had a fur-lined piano that wasn't a piano, but a fold-out bar...and that is just plain awesome.  Seriously, I would love a piano covered in faux tiger fur that opened into a wet bar.  Burgess Meredith was apparently never under the age of 75; here, he plays a snake-loving, former black belt landlord.  The fact that he has a lengthy karate fight with a woman gives you an idea of how this movie turned out.

There are two fairly random plot elements that are played for laughs, as well.  First, Goldie Hawn's best friend keeps warning her about getting raped.  Hilarious!  The second is a pair of Japanese tourists who accidentally end up in a one vehicle car chase; they're really scared until Hawn explains that Chevy Chase is a cop, like Kojack.  Apparently, Japanese tourists in the 70's loved Kojack.  File that factoid away for future use.

Despite all this, the movie never really comes together.  It's not bad, mind you, but it is odd.  The thriller scenes are treated like they are in a thriller movie.  The romantic comedy scenes are shot like they are for a romantic comedy.  And the slapstick scenes glue everything else together.  Probably not the choice I would have made for glue, but nobody asked me.  All in all, good supporting performances overcome a weak story and weaker genre mish-mash.  In fact, I would go so far as to call this movie competent.  Plus, it gets an extra star for the Japanese tourists and the piano bar.

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