Monday, January 17, 2011

Film Review: HOMER AND EDDIE (1989, Andrei Konchalovsky)

Stars: 2.2 of 5.
Running Time: 102 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: James Belushi, Whoopi Goldberg, John Waters (director of PINK FLAMINGOS and SERIAL MOM), Anne Ramsey (THE GOONIES, DEADLY FRIEND), Mickey Jones (TOTAL RECALL, EXTREME PREJUDICE), Karen Black (FIVE EASY PIECES, INVADERS FROM MARS), Vincent Schiavelli (ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, LORD OF ILLUSIONS), Tracey Walter (REPO MAN, MORTUARY ACADEMY), 'Tiny' Lister (EXTREME PREJUDICE, JACKIE BROWN), Pruitt Taylor Vince (NATURAL BORN KILLERS, WILD AT HEART), Wayne Grace (DANCES WITH WOLVES, MULHOLLAND DR.), Robert Glaudini (CUTTING CLASS; GRUNT! THE WRESTLING MOVIE).
Tag-line: "She's ruthless - He's witless - They're on the road together and falling apart at the seams!"
Best one-liner: "What the fuck is a brain stem?"

Sometimes when I can't tell if a film is supposed to be a comedy or a drama, and James Belushi happens to be in it, all I have to do is look at his credit: if it says 'Jim' (SNOW DOGS, CANADIAN BACON, ABRAXIS: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE, JUMPIN' JACK FLASH) it's probably intended to be a comedy, and if it says 'James' (SALVADOR, WILD PALMS, THIEF), it probably means that he wants to be taken seriously. HOMER AND EDDIE is a film which pendulates wildly between the full on-whacky and the quasi-profound, but for the record, he's credited as 'James.'

A lot of 70's and 80's movies struggle to maintain a consistent tone (INTO THE NIGHT, THE END, FREEBIE AND THE BEAN, SOMETHING WILD, HOWARD THE DUCK, and STROKER ACE come to mind), establishing themselves as Zany with a capital Z, and then pulling the rug out with something that's Heavy with a capital H. It's not to say that this will derail an entire film, or that tonal shifts can't be done well (see the Coens, David Lynch, et al.), but it's possible that two disparate tones have never been quite so at odds with one another as is the case in HOMER AND EDDIE. For example, we follow up a disquieting scene with a terminally ill woman smashing her head into a bathroom mirror...

...with one that involves hootin' n' hollerin' whilst driving past a bus full of nubile cheerleaders while set to peppy 80' grooves. A serious theological discussion that ends with Whoopi screaming, in all seriousness, "THERE AIN'T NO FUCKING GOD!" is followed by a fix-em-up montage set to tender guitar and wailin', sultry saxophone.

Directed by the writer of IVAN'S CHILDHOOD and ANDREI RUBLEV (!) and Cannon Films director-in-residence (RUNAWAY TRAIN, MARIA'S LOVERS, SHY PEOPLE) Andrei Konchalovsky, HOMER AND EDDIE is the tale of a brain-damaged man-child (James Belushi) and a brain-tumored sociopath (Whoopi Goldberg) who join forces and go on a West Coast road trip in search of the meaning of life, the meaning of family, and a missing eighty-seven dollars.

In short, it's a coming of age drama, a zany buddy-trip flick, an on-the-lam crime thriller, a fish out of water story, a Depression-era throwback (that's kind of a 1980's OF MICE AND MEN), a sex farce, and a cult movie. It's like somebody thought that combining RAIN MAN, SOMETHING WILD, and PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE would in some way be a good idea.
[The only movies of the era I can think of which can properly pull off the Americana road trip scenario along with flashes of beauty and violence and comedy and pathos are Jim Jarmusch's MYSTERY TRAIN and David Lynch's WILD AT HEART.]

Our leads do a pretty good job of 'running it up the flagpole,' so to speak. Belushi tries his hardest to pull off 'lovable, mentally disabled man.' The fact that I didn't find it entirely offensive is a tremendous credit to Belushi's acting chops.

I became something of a latter-day Whoopi fan only after seeing her performance in FATAL BEAUTY, and she's pretty amusing here, rampaging about and robbing people and uttering rejoinders such as "You're like Frankenstein and shit!" She anchors the erratic and ridiculous character with enough humanity that I was never actively pissed at her, and again, that is something of an achievement. You know a film is not hitting it's mark when I have to compliment it in terms 'what was not actively aggravating me.'

When you'd fear that all hope is lost- in a twist that really blew my mind– there's a goddamned parade of iconic cult actors in bit parts. Just look at this rogue's gallery:

Michael Ironside's best bud and ex-Bob-Dylan-drummer Mickey Jones as a redneck manhandled by Whoopi in a diner:


Legendary melancholy-faced character actor Vincent Schiavelli as a priest who refuses to grant Whoopi absolution for murder:


Former wrestler and action film standby Tommy 'Tiny' Lister as a heat-packin' clubgoer begrudingly won over by Belushi's cutesyness:


Crabby acting icon Anne Ramsey as a grizzled convenience store owner keeping an eagle eye out for shoplifters:


70's giant Karen Black as the insane madam of a low-rent, Southwestern, tin-shed whorehouse:


Pruitt Taylor Vince as an unlucky liquor store owner:


Director John Waters as a thieving, flaming highwayman who declares "Move it, maggot!":


And cult actor extraordinaire Tracey Walter as a stuttering cop and boyhood friend of Belushi.


Whew! In closing, I still like Konchalovsky. RUNAWAY TRAIN remains an all-time favorite, and HOMER AND EDDIE is by no means a terrible film, it's merely a misguided one. Probably the most inspired bit of work done on the film is by sometime Golan-Globus and Full Moon Pictures casting director Robert MacDonald (BARFLY, MURPHY'S LAW, RUNAWAY TRAIN, AMERICAN NINJA, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2, THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, SUBSPECIES, CASTLE FREAK, TRANCERS II) who assembled enough eclectic performers and bizarro cameos to really keep things interesting, even if it was something along the lines of 'What notorious cult performer will pop up next?!'

For its status as a (misconceived) labor of love and a treasure trove of unexpected personalities: a little over two stars.

-Sean Gill

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