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1 review, 6 user ratings

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Man Trouble
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by Jack Sommersby

"As Funny as a Root Canal"
1 stars

The studio saw fit not to screen this for critics, and after watching it it's more than evident why.

Jack Nicholson's engaging performance as a hustling, financially troubled security-dog trainer is the only reason to get involved in the excruciatingly awful so-called comedy Man Trouble. Actually, Nicholson should be given some kind of medal not only for putting in way more effort than the terrible screenplay is even remotely worthy of but for agreeing to the project in the first place out of loyalty to screenwriter Carole Eastman and director Bob Rafelson, both of whom were responsible for 1970's Five Easy Pieces, with Rafelson having also directed Nicholson in Head, The King of Marvin Gardens and The Postman Always Rings Twice, and Eastman having scripted the Nichsolon/Warren Beatty The Fortune. The result is catastrophic -- a movie so bad on so many levels it's somewhat fascinating to watch, like a train wreck happening in slow-motion right in front of your eyes. Which is a shame because not only does Nicholson deliver commendable work, but two celebrated technicians, production designer Mel Bourne and cinematographer Stephen H. Burum, don't lay down on the job, either. This is a motion picture by a major studio, 20th Century Fox, and while we can see Nicholson's motive for helping some friends out, didn't at least one studio exec bother to read the script before green-lighting the project? Nicholson's Harry Bliss, who's in marriage counseling with his always-nagging Japanese wife he calls Iwo Jima, is hired by recently-divorced opera singer Joan Spruance (Ellen Barkin) for guard-dog protection: after coming home to a ransacked apartment committed by an unknown perpetrator, with the Los Angeles area currently being terrorized by a serial killer nicknamed The Westside Slasher, she moves into her wealthy sister's huge Los Angeles home; but with the maid going away for the weekend, nervous about being alone she employs Harry, who, up to his eyebrows in debt, is impressed by the million-dollar property and infatuated with the lovely Joan. A romance soon develops, with Harry neglecting to mention he's married, and Joan continuing to get harassed by way of threatening letters and phone messages. And in a particularly inane subplot, Joan's sister Andy (Beverly D'Angelo) is kidnapped by henchmen of her wealthy ex-lover Redmond Layls (Harry Dean Stanton) who's taken exception to Andy's tell-all manuscript detailing his numerous shady business deals.

It's hard to discern exactly what Eastman had in mind with the mixing of romantic and thriller aspects ranging from a ski-masked man attacking Joan in her garage with an axe, and Joan constantly the object of her guard dog's glandular-humping obsession with her leg. The movie is so wildly off-tone you can drive yourself crazy figuring out how you're supposed to respond to it, and it's not because of any daring eccentricity on the part of the moviemakers, but because there isn't an iota of organic clarity holding any of it together. (There's even a lame final action sequence on a cliff with Harry and Joan's knife-wielding stalker fighting it out.) But even with a screenplay as faulty as this, the execution of it isn't a whole lot better. Rafelson's never showed much in the way of technical prowess or a distinct visual sense, and his comic staging here is truly abysmal -- you can practically see the chalk marks he isn't hitting whenever a gag fizzles or just plain crashes. Someone like, say, Robert Altman or Paul Mazursky could've possibly segued the scenes together more fluidly, but no director could've possibly made anything play when execrable dialogue by the likes of "Oh, please don't judge me by your scrotal excesses" keep braining the audience over the head. Maybe the romance angle could've helped alleviate some of the weaknesses, but it's never convincing (when Joan is soon declaring her love for a two-bit hustler like Harry, we're left scratching our heads), and Barkin, who delivered a superb performance in writer/director Blake Edwards's body-switch comedy Switch two years prior, grossly overacts, piling on one exaggerated mannerism after another -- she can't even pick up a ringing telephone without calling undue attention to herself. That leaves Nicholson, and he works the ultimate miracle in managing to escape with his dignity and make the movie somewhat worth watching. His role isn't anything grand by a long shot, but with pure acting instinct he's able to inject a bit of irony into his line readings (it were as if he were communicating, "Hey, I know what I'm saying is manure, but I want you to be aware that I'm aware of it"). He has something of the down-to-earth Everyman quality he had as the conscience-laden police officer in The Border, and succeeds in allowing us to have a wee bit of sustained interest in his loose, sometimes-endearing characterization. His Harry Bliss may not be memorable, but Nicholson at least makes us have something of a stake in the man, and considering the innumerable odds Eastman and Rafelson have inadvertently stacked against him, this minor accomplishment is worthy of some applause.

The DVD boasts an adequate transfer (giving Burum's photography the respect it deserves), but it's devoid of special features, though I can't imagine a soul out there hungering for an audio commentary or behind-the-scenes featurette of this abomination.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=3570&reviewer=327
originally posted: 02/20/13 22:34:50
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User Comments

3/05/08 mr.mike I laughed once , when the dog got out of the car and peed. 2 stars
9/02/04 T.B. Jack don't bolong here! 1 stars
2/12/03 R.W. Welch Not much spark or wit in this stab at romantic comedy. Save your $$. 2 stars
12/28/02 Jack Sommersby I concur, Charles: godawful, this. 1 stars
10/16/02 Charles Tatum The worst film for everyone involved 1 stars
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  02-Apr-1992 (PG-13)
  DVD: 14-Dec-2004



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