Man with One Red Shoe, The

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 12/04/04 14:52:14

"It's as good as you remember it. Better, even."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

I have never seen “The Tall Blonde Man With One Black Shoe,” the 1973 French comedy on which “The Man With One Red Shoe” was based, so please don’t complain about my not comparing the two films. I can’t, so I won’t.

What I will say is that “Red Shoe” is one of Tom Hanks’ underrated gems, released among a string of critical and box office flops released when Hanks was not yet a major movie star. It’s a shame that this one has become widely considered a forgettable effort from Hanks, since although it’s not a great film, it is one of my favorites of his from the decade.

The plot is quite convoluted, so I’ll do my best: Following a drug-related arrest of a CIA agent, CIA chief Ross (Charles Durning) has his job on the line, with a Senate hearing scheduled to occur in two days. Gunning for Ross’ job is Cooper (Dabney Coleman), another CIA bigwig who’s not above spying on Ross himself in order to uncover some dirt.

But Ross has a plan. His assistant Brown (Ed Hermann) will make it seem as though Ross has someone coming in to testify against Cooper. The thing is, there isn’t anyone; Brown will randomly pick somebody and make it look like he’s involved. Cooper’s gang will then waste the next two days tracking this decoy. With me so far? Good. Anyway, the decoy is Richard Drew (Hanks), a violinist for the Washington Symphony who has plenty of problems of his own before all this spy business gets started.

“Red Shoe” marks the final high point in the careers of both its writer and director. Screenwriter Robert Klane went on to pen “Weekend At Bernie’s,” which allowed him to direct “Weekend At Bernie’s II.” Good times. Meanwhile, director Stan Dragoti, who previously helmed “Mr. Mom” and “Love At First Bite,” would find this his last decent film; he went on to make “She’s Out of Control” and “Necessary Roughness.”

I don’t know how these two men managed to make such a good film, but they did. Dragoti lends the movie a spy movie look so slick that if you removed the comedy, it would feel just like another espionage adventure. Add to that Klane’s mix of mild slapstick with goofy one-liners. “Red Shoe” is one of those endlessly quotable movies; “That’s the trouble with surveillance,” one dim-witted spy says, “you don’t get to see nothin’.” Makes me giggle.

Some folks, accustomed to Hanks’ more recent works, find it odd to see the guy doing physical comedy. They’re used to the more verbal guy they’ve seen in romantic comedies and serious dramas. But watch this movie with an eye on Hanks, and you’ll see a performer who’s just as good at goofing off physically as he is smarting off verbally. Some scenes find him working both skills; a gag that gets Lori Singer’s hair caught in his fly finds Hanks at his wacky best.

While Hanks is just as good as you’d expect here (he put every effort into his early cheap comedies that he does in his Oscar-winning dramas today), it’s the supporting cast that kicks the movie into high gear. Coleman and Durning both get the subtle incompetency of their characters just right, while Tom Noonan and Irving Metzman take the more obvious bumbling route as the aforementioned surveillance men.

Then there’s Jim Belushi, who, as Richard’s best friend Morris, is slowly driven batty by being the only person who gets to see the few dead bodies in Richard’s apartment (they’re moved before Richard can see them, you see). Belushi spends most of the film with this look on his face that I can’t quite describe here. By the time he looks into the camera and yells, “Aw, come on!” (the only too-far moment in the otherwise restrained comedy), we feel his pain and aren’t ashamed to laugh at it. It’s a performance that has made me chuckle for seventeen years now, and has yet to become stale.

There are quite a few weak moments in “Red Shoe,” as not all of the jokes hit home. But the laughs that do work are far more plentiful, and the whole project has a sheen to it that makes it one cool spy comedy. (The synth-heavy musical score by Thomas Newman adds to the vibe.) Fans of the star who grew up after this era should give it a spin, and folks who remember when this first hit theaters should give it a second glance. “Red Shoe” is sharp, clever, and witty as hell, ranking among the most likable Hanks films of the 1980s.

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