BetteBack: All hail the Divine Misses M and L

The Orange County Register
Midler, Long pairing is outrageously fortunate
By Michael Burkett
The Register
Friday, January 30, 1987

That the Bette MidlerShelley Long comedy “Outrageous Fortune” is an outrageous success is almost certain to be remembered as one of the most outrageous surprises of 1987.

During production, rumors abounded of the stars’ unbridled hatred for each other – stories that seemed confirmed by an unusua l ly nasty post-production billing battle. (Both actresses won: Long gets first mention in half the country; Midler is top-lined in the other h a l f .) On top of tha t, the film is directed by A r t h ur Hiller, whose career
– since, ahem, peaking with “Love Story” – has consisted p r ima r i ly of lame comedies like “Romantic Comedy” and “The Lonely Guy.”

Nine hundred and ninety-nine times out of a thousand, this combination – hack director and clashing egos – is all you need to turn light comedy into a hot, steaming platter of turkey giblets. But somehow, qui te mi r a culous ly, and
wi th no small amount of thanks to first-time screenwriter Leslie Dixon, this gender-bending buddy picture beats the odds to emerge as one of the fastest, funniest, dead-on comedies in recent memory.

On the surface, the f i lm is yet another entry in the seemingly endless series of slapstick farces in which innocent urbanites f i nd themselves dodging the bullets of griody-goody American spies and nasty-., nasty Russian spies. But unl ike, say, “Jumpin Jack Flash,” this version has been written with so much wit and sparkle by Dixon, and directed with so much unexpected energy by Hiller, that even the obligatory chase scenes have a certain freshness and style.

The stars play a pair of aspiring actresses who meet at an audition to become -Students of a renowned acting master. It
is, n a t u r a l l y, loathe at first sight between this wealthy, spoiled “rich bitch” (Long) and the hlowsy, audacious co-star of a drive-in epic called “Ninja Vixens” (Mi d l e r ). But when they discover, to their mutual horror, that they’ve been simultaneously romanced by the same “perfect” man (Peter Coyote) – a “schoolteacher” who has just disappeared under less than savory circumstances – they set off on a cross-country journey to f ind their man
and make him choose between them.

En route, Midler and Long fight, kvetch, trade insults and crack wise in the face of constant calamity. And they make an ideally matched comedy team; Long is just as prissy as she has been in her previous movies (“Irreconcilable Differences,” “The Money Pit“), but the usual cloying effect is perfectly tempered by Midler’s gleeful raunchiness. Just as Hope and Crosby always seemed to be on the same comic wave l ength, so do Long and Midler.

Despite those tales of tension on the set (or maybe because of them), both actresses appear to be having a full-throttle ball dur ing the f i lm’s parade of ludicrous situations. The chemistry between them is always worth
wa t ching, even >when-the – movie becomes far-more-interesteithan we are in wrapping up its contrived plot.

My favorite moment between them comes after they have left Long’s apartment, which was in the process of being torn apart by secret agents from one country or another. The pair race to Midler’s apartment, and when Long sees that it is in an even worse mess than her own, she gasps, “My God! They’ve been here, too!” . . . and Midler casually assures her that the place a/ways looks like it’s been ransacked by spies.

In addition to Coyote (very satisfactory in the Dorothy Lamour role), the film boasts some fine comic actors in the supporting roles – although their primary function is to serve as straight men tb the stars: stand-up comic George Carlin as an aging, seriously brain-fried love child who thinks he is an Indian tracker; Robert Prosky (he’s the retired sergeant on TV’s “Hill Street Blues“) as a man who only moonlights as an eminent Russian theatrical director; and John Shuck, as a bumbling CIA. functionary who nearly becomes the first airline passenger to get lost with his luggage.

The scenes make sense. (Most conspicuous is one in which a few dozen Indian bikers are brought in like the U.S. Cavalry to save the stars from certain death. When they arrive, they just stand around and watch the stars protect themselves from certain death-.) But when “Outrageous Fortune” is living up to its title, it pumps helium into your spirits and laughing gas into your brain.

All hail the Divine Misses M and L.

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