The Films of Danny DeVito
The Ratings Game
Throw Momma From The Train (February 24/15)
Loosely inspired by Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train, Throw Momma From The Train follows Billy Crystal's Larry, a struggling writer/English teacher, as he's embroiled in a scheme to knock off the abusive mother (Anne Ramsey) of one of his students (Danny DeVito's Owen). The cast's continually enthusiastic efforts are, in the end, unable to compensate for a fairly routine (and surprisingly laugh-free) environment, as filmmaker DeVito's ongoing difficulties at cultivating a feeling of consistent momentum hold the viewer at arm's length virtually from start to finish - which ultimately ensures that the movie is only really entertaining in starts and fits. It's clear almost immediately that a big contributor to Throw Momma From The Train's lackluster atmosphere is Ramsey's decidedly unpleasant turn as the title character, as the actress delivers a grating performance that is, to an extremely prominent degree, the cinematic equivalent of nails on a chalkboard. (Perhaps this was the point, however, as the viewer can't help but root for her demise.) The relative watchable vibe, then, is due almost entirely to the affable efforts of both Crystal and DeVito, with the natural chemistry between the two actors going a long way towards smoothing over the various deficiencies within the narrative. Throw Momma From The Train is, finally, a fairly forgettable piece of work that could (and should) have been so much better, with DeVito's inability to wholeheartedly sustain either an overtly suspenseful or comedic feel becoming more and more problematic as time progresses.
The War of the Roses
Death to Smoochy
Duplex (February 26/15)
Duplex follows married couple Alex (Ben Stiller) and Nancy (Drew Barrymore) as they purchase an expansive house in New York City, with problems ensuing as the pair's upstairs tenant (Eileen Essell's Mrs. Connelly) quickly establishes herself as a total neighbor from hell. It becomes more and more clear that Duplex marks filmmaker Danny DeVito's attempt at replicating the success of Throw Momma From The Train, as the movie, to an increasingly distressing degree, comes off as a beat-by-beat remake of that earlier picture - with the narrative detailing the growing acrimony between the protagonists and a seriously hateful older character. This is despite a relatively promising opening stretch buoyed by Stiller and Barrymore's charismatic work, with the actors' appealing efforts initially compensating for the less-than-engrossing nature of Larry Doyle's screenplay. There inevitably reaches a point, however, at which Duplex's few positive attributes are rendered moot by its relentless emphasis on unpleasant happenings. It certainly doesn't help that Doyle employs a tediously episodic structure devoted to Mrs. Connelly's progressively vicious hijinks, with the lack of laughs only compounding the decidedly disagreeable atmosphere. (DeVito's penchant for infusing such moments with a palpably over-the-top feel only heightens the vibe of growing desperation). The twist ending that closes out the proceedings is kind of neat, admittedly, although it arrives far too late to compensate for the relentless ineffectiveness of everything preceding it.