by Ryan Arthur
One of the first movies I purchased when I bought my DVD player a few years ago was Back To School, a movie I had fond memories of from when I was younger. It held up well, at least to my eye, and was as good as I recalled it to be, with a number of funny moments and good lines, plus the added bonus of seeing Robert Downey, Jr. playing has role while apparently coked up out of his mind. Not necessarily high comedy (ahem), but good comedy nonetheless. It stood to reason that Easy Money would follow the same route.Rodney Dangerfield plays a variation of himself yet again as Monty Capuletti, a children's photographer on Staten Island and all-around slob. He smokes and drinks too much, is out of shape, hangs out with his loser buddies and is pretty crass. His wife Rose (Candy Azzara) and kids (including Jennifer Jason Leigh, hot off Fast Times At Ridgemont High) love him, but his mother-in-law's a different story. Mrs. Monahan (Gerladine Fitzgerald) thinks her daughter has lowered her standards to be with Monty, and wishes her daughter would dump him, or if nothing else, Monty would try to be a better man and husband.
"'I got no will powah!'"
Fortune seemingly smiles on Monty when Mrs. M. kicks the bucket and her will gives him the opportunity to inherit $10 million...but only if he cleans up his act and stays on the straight and narrow for a year. If he can't, the money gets shifted back to Mrs. Monahan's nephew Clive Barlow (a pre-Ferris Bueller's Day Off Jeffery Jones), who's in charge of her ritzy department store, which is where most of the fortune is tied up.
Easy Money is built like Trading Places (which beat Easy Money into theaters by about a month and a half) and Brewster's Millions, other similar movies of the time, where money is a catalyst for the characters. Monty could always use the dough: he's just married off his daughter to a sleaze named Julio (Taylor Negron) and he's got a wedding to pay off. His pals Louie (Val Avery), Paddy (Tom Noonan) and Nicky (Joe Pesci, three years removed from the critical acclaim of Raging Bull) and his family want him to go for it, so he does. Which isn't to say he's not tempted to stray off the path. His buddies continue their boozing, carousing and smoking, plus Monty's also got a neighbor with a stash of dope and wife with a hyooge rack and a penchant for nude sunbathing in the backyard ("She ain't worth ten million dollars...five million, maybe"). So yes, he's tempted.
That's the meat of Easy Money, since the plot is relatively thin: the film gets some of its best moments in the situational humor of the temptation. Monty has moments of weakness, and yet always seems to make it through somehow. My absolute favorite scene in the film is one where Monty and Rose are sitting in the kitchen after Monty's had a long day and can't sleep (watch as Rodney clicks right past Billy Wilder's The Lost Weekend in his restlessness). He spies a box of miniature muffins, and we expect Monty to give in. Monty picks up just one mini-muffin, unwraps it from the baking paper, puts the muffin back in the box, and proceeds to suck on the muffin wrapper. It's a very subtle joke (I missed it the first time through), but hilarious. Some scenes are played a little more broadly, like when Monty and Nicky end up shopping at the department store for shirts, Barlow starts to screw with them and things go off on a tangent, with Monty (at Barlow's insistence) becoming the design influence for clothes for the "regular guy": bowling shirts, sharkskin jackets, tablecloth-checkered bathrobes...the fashion show crowd (you read that right) is appalled, and Monty very nearly cracks...and things ultimately wrap themselves into a too-neat little package, and the credits roll.
Huh? Well, that's what I don't like about Easy Money, the cop-out ending (which I won't spoil, so relax if you haven't seen it). It's too pat for me. But a lot of people seem to be able to look past it and enjoy everything else that the film has to offer.
First, there's Rodney himself. As mentioned, Monty is basically Rodney turned up to "11," just as it was in Caddyshack and Back To School or really any movie where Rodney had a featured role. He plays himself really well, so it's not really much of an acting job. Yes, he's got flaws, but Monty loves his kids and dotes on his wife, and he tries hard to do better in the way he lives his life, even if his reasons for doing so are pretty much purely financial.
He's also the only real family member to be fully fleshed-out. Rose isn't give much to do except have a worried look on her face. The youngest daughter, Belinda (Lili Hayden) acts as Monty's conscience, keeping an eye on him and his habits. The eldest (Leigh) is the newlywed, and after a disasterous wedding night, she's back to living with her parents while her would-be husband tries to woo her back with generally bad results. But that subplot takes a backseat to Monty's plight. It's probably a better movie for it.
Pesci is introduced to audiences as he's snipping his armpit hair with a pair of scissors. Being that it's Joe Pesci, you'd think he'd turn around and stab someone in the jugular with said scissors, but this is different. Nicky's like most of Pesci's other characters in that he's got a relatively short temper, and it's played to pretty good comic effect here. He gets a few of the movie's better lines, and he's got decent chemistry with Rodney.
There's also Jones as Barlow. Jeffery Jones has been in the news quite a bit over the last year, but his personal problems aside, I've always enjoyed him as an actor. He's very much the smarmy, sniveling bad guy here, kind of over the top, but it works. He's got no mustache to twirl, but you get the idea. The character's painted in very broad strokes, but Jones hams it up and has fun with it. It's fun to watch.
Outside of the performances (and even those will depend on your tolerance for Dangerfield and Pesci), I don't really know that the film holds up. Director James Signorelli had one other "major credit" as director: Elvira, Mistress Of The Dark, plus a number of Saturday Night Live filmed segments and videos throughout the years. He pretty much points and shoots, so there's nothing really fancy going on. The film also looks really dated, with the cast's wardrobe, and with the sets as well. I've never been to Staten Island, so maybe it looked like that in '83 (hell, maybe it still does), but it just looks bad all around. Some of the jokes, while funny, probably wouldn't fly in this political climate, and while Monty's played as a working class guy that we're supposed to identify with, it's kind of hard to sympathize with him.If you can look past the film's look, you're basically getting about what you'd expect. Rodney is Rodney, so if you liked him in Caddyshack and Back To School (and I did), it stands to reason you'd like him here (and again, I did). Easy Money was a big success for Rodney, and it's still a very funny movie.
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originally posted: 09/24/03 12:52:07