Mediocre: A Dangerous Woman

A Dangerous Woman (1993)
Directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal
Written by Mary McGarry Morris, Naomi Foner
Produced by Patricia Whitcher, Naomi Foner, Kathleen Kennedy
Starring Debra Winger, Gabriel Byrne, Barbara Hershey, David Strathairn, Chloe Webb, John Terry, Viveka Davis, Richard Riehle, Myles Sheridan, Laurie Metcalf, Jan Hooks
Even when it descends into maudlin melodrama, its gifted players and Gyllenhaal’s proficient (if pedestrian) direction buoy this seamy drama of manslaughter in a small Californian town, produced and adapted by his wife with a similarly uninspired competence from Morris’s novel. Winger believably creates by vociferation and gestural subtleties the ipsism of an intrusive, ingenuous simpleton, whose turbulent relationships with friends (Webb, Davis), a disreputable co-worker (Strathairn), her lonely aunt (Hershey) and a drunken, drifting carpenter (Byrne) in her employ confound and agitate her delicate, often uncomprehending psyche with tragic results. Many of the commonplace contretemps enacted are self-consciously stagy for Morris’s hackneyed dialogue, but in sequent sanguinary and sexual extremes, Gyllenhaal presses his performers to plausible potency, proving that they deserve a better story. Despite an intolerably twee score composed by Carter Burwell (when he was penning his best music for the Coens), there’s plenty to enjoy here, such as Robert Elswit’s warmly balanced photography, and a plenitude of familiar character actors; among others, Paul Dooley and Jan Hooks respectively peddle Tupperware and cosmetics. From and for Winger, this is to be expected: a premium performance of a modest role, trapped in a middling picture.

Mediocre: The Odd Couple II

The Odd Couple II (1998)
Directed by Howard Deutch
Written by Neil Simon
Produced by Robert W. Cort, David Madden, Neil Simon, Elena Spiotta
Starring Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Mary Beth Peil, Jonathan Silverman, Lisa Waltz, Richard Riehle, Christine Baranski, Jean Smart
Thirty years elapsed between the filmic success of Simon’s lovably insufferable squabblers and this reunion miscalculated to capitalize on the revived popularity of two much older, grumpier men. Lemmon’s carping, persnickety hypochondriac and Matthau’s insouciantly inept sloven bicker en route through picturesque rural California to the wedding of Felix’s daughter (Peil) and Oscar’s son (Silverman), sustaining afoot lost luggage, a detonated rental car, Mexican smugglers, an impendent corpse (Barnard Hughes), redneck hussies (Baranski, Smart) and one another, their recriminative irritation meliorated not a jot in their advanced years. Approximately one of Simon’s every four cracks and gags is legitimately funny (a miserably promising ratio by contemporary standards), and his leading men optimize these with unerring comic timing and persisting chemistry. Alas, uncoordinated direction by Deutch — who’s never managed a decent film without John Hughes’ patronage — and Seth Flaum’s horrendous editing often spoil whatever the stars salvage; after every other punch line, poorly composed shots either cut away abruptly or linger too long. Still worse, Alan Silvestri’s twee, drippy score (possibly his very worst) loudly and repeatedly diverts from rather than complementing any onscreen humor. Silverman plays Oscar’s son as a cloying candy-ass and inadvertent warning against the folly of flighty single motherhood, but the supporting cast is otherwise tolerable, notwithstanding Baranski in a creepily carnal context. It’s all paltry and far too late for a priceless pair whose audience was expeditiously expiring by the late ’90s, and ought’ve been exploited decades earlier: in lieu of the negligible telecast series, Lemmon and Matthau might have been reunited in a quartet of theatrical sequels circa ’71-’86, scripted by the likes of Andrew Bergman and helmed by proven comedic directors such as Ramis or Hiller. Instead, this final outing by one of Old Hollywood’s most gifted twosomes finds them struggling to modest yet meritorious achievement in their twilight years to excite a few laughs in a barely mediocre vehicle.