Time Machine: Outrageous Fortune

Article from: Albany Times Union (Albany, NY)
Article date: January 25, 1987
Byline: Jackie Demaline Executive entertainment editor

Bette Midler figures it’s a cycle. “These must be the seven fat years. God knows the last seven were lean.”

Those lean times after the triumph of “The Rose” in 1978 included a stalled movie career an a bout with nervous exhaustion.

Now life couldn’t be better. The Divine Miss M is a happy Mrs., with a Baby Divine, a movie career on the rise ever since she hoked her star to Disney – even her ever-breaking fingernails are growing.

Midler has been as gold mine for Touchstone Pictures since she signed on the dotted line. She made an unforgettable debut in “Down and Out in Beverly Hills.” Nobody remembers her lines, just her body language. Her fabulous haughty you-know-what-you- can-do-with-it mince was walk-on and then some.

She strolled away with the comedy performance of 1986 in “Ruthless People.” Forget Eddie Murphy; too bad, tres Amigos. The single funniest line and best delivery of the year: Midler’s bewildered, beleagured heiress’ wail, “I’ve been kidnapped by K mart!”

Her latest outing for Touchstone, opening on area screens Friday, could be named for their mutual success story: “Outrageous Fortune.”

She walks away with the comedy, not that there’s much to walk away with. It’s a female buddy flick, a contemporary on-the-road chase with spies, slapstick, sex, retro-’60s. There’s no kitchen sink, but there are two industrial-sized washing machines.

Midler has put it all together. The camera seems to love her excesses and energy. She eyes the lens with a knowing look and she becomes the offbeat heroine of the ’80s, armed with wild red hair, four-inch spike heels, plenty of smarts and an inspired sense of comedy timing.

Midler plays Sandy, the dirty- mouthed, totally outrageous dynamo who glories in sticking it to practically perfect Lauren, a character who even co-star Shelley Long (of “Cheers” fame) admits is stuffed with “Diane- isms.”

Into the lives of Lauren and Sandy comes a perfect man. Michael is a teacher, kind to the little tykes in his class, good-looking, tender, generous, thoughtful, insatiable, single and straight. You got it – he’s lying.

Sandy and Lauren’s mutual antipathy, which has been nurtured in a drama class, soon turns violent. When Michael appears to die in an explosion, they accidentally meet in the autopsy room.

Hostilities break out near the covered corpse, enough to uncover a part of his anatomy they are very familiar with – and convinces them that, while this is certainly a dead body, it is not Michael’s.

They both want Mr. Perfect back, so on the road they go to save him from bad guys who turn out to be good guys – well, okay guys. They have run-ins with drug dealers, the CIA and KGB, and bikers.

After the first-rate comedies Touchstone has been delivering, from “Splash” to “Ruthless People,” “Outrageous Fortune” is strictly second-class.

But “Outrageous Fortune” is nevertheless a basic ‘feel good’ movie – and if that’s the worst you can say about something, you’re doing fine.

The one-liners are funny, the convoluted plot simple-minded but appealing. Yet you always have a feeling you know what’s coming and you’re always right; Sandy and Lauren’s grudging, growing mutual respect and friendship is more convenient than it is sincere.

“Outrageous Fortune” doesn’t have the structure and texture of “Ruthless People,” nor the depth of “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” but it’s filled with giggles:

Sandy trying to beg money off her rich mother, who won’t even let her in the door; a taxi ride into what looks like Fort Apache, the Bronx. “There are no white persons on the street,” Long mutters nervously. Midler’s insouciantly delivered reply: “No, there’s one … whoops, they got him.”

This is no stretch for Long – Lauren is a close relation to her Boston barmaid, but after the disastrous “Irreconcilable Differences” and “The Money Pit,” it’s a definite improvement – she’s looser, almost likable.

Nor is it much of a stretch for Midler, who can’t quite believe the acclaim she’s received from her last two Touchstone outings, which she estimates at about 30 total minutes of screen time.

“I feel like it’s a scam,” she chortles. Far from being hard work, she called the roles “duck soup.” She strikes a pose, eyes wide, hands up. “I go like this for a little bit.” She strikes another pose. “I go like that for a little bit. I put on a fat suit. Big deal.”

It occasionally looks like there isn’t much more of her than that in “Outrageous Fortune.” Midler, dressed so atypically in a bulky, ugly wardrobe, is obviously pregnant, and in this very physical comedy of running, jumping, climbing mountains, riding horses and tumbling in washing machines, it’s apparent that doubles are putting in overtime.

But the time she puts in is quality. The irreverent, streetwise, saucy, sassy (with a hidden streak of nice) lady is a role that Midler has perfected. And it may just be a character whose time has come.

“I don’t examine it too deeply,” she said in an interview last week. “I don’t want it to go away.

“All I can think is that the scripts got better – or maybe my type has just come into demand. My heart and soul are the same, my clothes are the same, I live in the same house.”

Movie stardom may be ready for Midler, but is Bette ready for movie stardom? Midler doesn’t act like a star.

Her clothes look lived in. It must be force of personality that makes her fill the screen, because she’s tiny. Her larger-than-life features are delicate behind big glasses, she’s wearing braces, the last vestiges of blond are fighting for attention in hair that’s growing out dark and thick.

She passes around a Polaroid snapshot of baby Sophie Frederica Alohelani, who has inherited the Midler disapproving Stare. Mom demonstrates and laughs.

No, Sophie isn’t named for Sophie Tucker, she denies. It was almost Lulu or Freddie. She and her husband, commodities trader and performance artist Harry Kipper, were looking for something to go with ‘Von Hasseldorf,’ “something that sounded like an impoverished Austrian princess.”

Midler made her reputation on the grueling concert circuit (having a baby, she says, is exactly like touring with an entourage of 35) but she contends that even if people knew her name, no one had seen her work.

Her rambunctiously imaginative, theatrically musical revues played best in auditoriums of 5,000 seats and less – and all that effort for so little return in terms of audience size may be what keeps her away from another concert tour, even though Midler says she’s “inspired” to go back.

She’d love to do another dramatic role, like “The Rose,” “but nobody’s writing them.” So for the time being she’ll stick with comedy. “The people who pay for tickets want me to be funny, and I’m perfectly happy to be funny.”

And if it’s comedy that could be considered pretty tame by the standards of Early Midler, “Well, that’s this year,” Midler says unconcernedly. “Next year it could be something else.”

It won’t be back to Early Midler. Two month-old Sophie, she says flatly, has changed her life. The woman whose mastery of the strong language is notorious (she suspects she was overreacting from her childhood in Honolulu, where her father wouldn’t allow so much as a ‘darn’) wants to cut down her swearing on and off screen. You never know when Baby Divine will start understanding what the Divine Miss M is saying.

The “something else” might be a stage revival of “Gypsy,” a project which is talked about every couple of years. Midler thinks it may happen this time because director Mike Nichols is also interested in doing a production. She hasn’t spoken to Nichols personally (“I heard it through the grapevine”), but she’s waiting by the phone.

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