BetteBack: Outrageous Hilarity

Winnipeg Free Press
Sassy screen comedy succeeds wonderfully despite a ho-hum plot
Paul McKie
Friday, January 30,1987

There is nothing a critic hates more than a f i lm that ignores origin a l i t y– and succeeds wonderfully. How on earth is a body expected to gain any respect when everything you rail at from week to week is thrown back in your face?
So it is with Outrageous Fortune, an unoriginal f i lm comedy replete with predictable characters and uninspired pratfalls. I laughed ail the way through it.

Tha t ‘s the c o n u n d r um of the week, folks, a f i lm which treads a familiar path and still works. For Outrageous Fortune is a pleasantly entertaining and amusing movie throughout. Veteran director Arthur Hiller has taken some mundane plot ingredients and made a sassy, silly, screen comedy.

Laugh anyway

This is the kind of f i lm you laugh at despite yourself. It may be s i l ly, and not terribly sophisticated, but it is funny. Discovering why this f i lm works is as easy as reading the marquee billing. Bette Midler and Shelley Long are an engaging comedic team. Their comic t iming, manneri sms, a nd a c t ing a b i l i t i es t r a nscend the often forced funny lines they’re required to speak.

Midler (making her third screen appearance in a year) and Long play the characters they’ve been playing for years. Hardly inspired, but they know these people inside out. Midler is Sandy, the same brash witch Midler has played recently. Loud and gutsy on the outside, really she is lonely and insecure. Awww.

Long plays Lauren, a snooty, know-it-all like the one she has played on TV’s Cheers for the past five years. Spoiled and obnoxious, you want to get up there and give her a piece of your mi n d. Long p e r f e c t ly plays the role to the hilt.

Together these two are a reluctant, female Laurel and Hardy, inv o l v ed in espionage a nd v e ngeance. . , But it doesn’t start out that way. By a bizarre twist of f a te both Lauren and Sandy f i nd themselves in the same acting class. Lauren has had small parts and aspires to play Hamlet some day. Sandy had a part in Ninja Vixens.

The class is lead by the great method actor, Stanislov Korzenowski (Robert Prosky), who makes the students do all sorts of dumb things we can get a chuckle f rom.

Madly in love Lauren and Sandy share something else, only they don’t know it yet. They’re both madly in love wi th Michael (Peter Coyote), a gentle school teacher. Neither one of them knows the other is seeing Michael until he dies in a terrible explosion. Or does he?

When Lauren and Sandy run into each other in the morgue, the surprises begin. Michael’s upper body is horribly disfigured,.but .the,girls f i nd something on his lower torso p r o v i ng Mi c h a el is a l ive somewhere. Even the cheap s t u ff comes off well with these two.

Director Hiller then begins to spin a humorous adventure with Lauren and Sandy on the run for their lover, and the KGB and the CIA not far behind. Fast-paced action combined wi th the pleasant humor, offsets the simplistic spy scandal and the even more simplistic spies.

There are problems here, though they don’t detract f rom the fun too much. There’s a stupid CIA agent (John Schuck) we could have done without, and George Carlin is wasted in a c ameo r o le as F r a n k, the trail scout. Carlin looks goofy for most of his 15-minute screen time, and is allowed to deliver only one funny line.

Outrageous Fortune is no comedy classic. It proves, however, that clever direction and expert performances can turn ho-hum into humorous.

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