Films, TV, and Theatre

Outrageous Fortune (1987)

Comedy thriller starring Shelley Long and Bette Midler as rival acting students who discover they have been sharing the same mysterious lover. With Peter Coyote.

Stars: Shelley Long, Bette Midler, Peter Coyote, Robert Prosky
Director: Arthur Hiller

TV Guide

The plot here has been played out hundreds of times (and often better) in other films. Sandy (Bette Midler) and Lauren (Shelley Long) are both in love with the perfect man (Peter Coyote). They vie with each other for his attentions, employing all the catty and petty devices that are supposed to pass for comedy. But the battle for his attentions evaporates when the ladies learn their dreamboat has simply vanished, and they embark upon a quest to find him. The film is mostly one long cliche borrowed from comedy spy plots. Long is wholly ineffective, while Midler provides most of the laughs, which come in bits and pieces. Arthur Hiller's pedestrian direction doesn't help much as he jumps from one set-piece scene to another without bothering to cover the gaping holes in a threadbare script. George Carlin, a befuddled hippie leftover from the last generation wandering about the New Mexico desert in search of a guru, gets some genuine laughs, but even this small role wears thin quickly. OUTRAGEOUS FORTUNE is an effort on the part of Disney to prove it can distribute adult films, but it only shows that it has no real perception of what such pictures are all about.

Variety Staff

Outrageous Fortune is well crafted, old-fashioned entertainment that takes some conventional elements, shines them up and repackages them as something new and contemporary. It's a traditional male buddy film that has substituted women and the main plot device is that the two heroines are sleeping with the same man. Bette Midler and Shelley Long collide even before their affections do in an acting class given by the eminent Russian director Stanislov Korenowski (Robert Prosky). Long is a wealthy, spoiled dilettante while Midler last starred in Ninja Vixens. When the audience learns they're sharing the same man (Peter Coyote) before they do, it's a delicious moment complete with one image-shattering sight gag.

The film takes off as a chase picture with the girls following Coyote to New Mexico to demand a decision. They're not the only ones looking for him. It seems the CIA is hot on his trail as is the KGB. To top things off, it turns out Korenowski is a Russian agent first and a director second.

Even when Leslie Dixon's script sags and becomes a bit repetitious in the long New Mexico chase section, Midler and Long are never less than fun to watch.

Roger Ebert

In a recent interview in the New York Times, Leslie Dixon, the author of the screenplay for "Outrageous Fortune," revealed some of the secrets of being a successful writer for the movies. You have to read a lot of successful screenplays, she said, and be familiar with what's out there, what's selling at the studios. On the basis of this movie, she has done her job well: "Outrageous Fortune" is a combination of comedy and chase, billed by the producers as "the first genuine female buddy action comedy."

Unfortunately, the movie is so busy cross-polinating its genres that it never pauses for the kind of thought that might have made it really special, instead of just fitfully funny. This is a movie that has its commercial concept written all over it; it's so painstakingly crafted as a product that the messy spontaneity of life is rarely allowed to interrupt.

The film stars Bette Midler and Shelley Long as two acting students who discover they're both having an affair with the same fellow student. Midler plays a brassy, vulgar veteran of movies with names such as "Ninja Vixens," and Long is a Yale graduate who has deep ideas about Art. The man they have in common is played by Peter Coyote as a slick, mysterious romeo who turns out, alas, to be involved in espionage.

I say "alas" because this movie goes wrong the moment it introduces its counterspy plot. You can almost hear the standard cliches slamming into place. Midler and Long discover that their drama teacher (Robert Prosky) is a spy, that Coyote is in the class to spy on him, that there are people who want to kill them, and that it's up to them to chase all over the West and endure untold physical risks until the mystery is solved.

Take away the specific details, and this is the same premise that sabotaged "Jumpin' Jack Flash," another "genuine" female action comedy. The screenplay gets so wound up with the action that there's no time to explore the characters or let them be funny on their own terms. Midler has some very funny moments in "Outrageous Fortune," but they're inspired by the personality she brings to the movie, not the one that Dixon's screenplay supplies for her. Long, who doesn't come packaged with a pre-existing comic persona, seems adrift most of the time.

My advice to Dixon would be: After you've studied all those screenplays, ask yourself what's wrong with them, and you're likely to discover that they all begin with interesting characters and then march relentlessly into a series of cliches involving the CIA, the Russians, car chases, sinister plots and colorful locations. Truly funny movies (here I include Midler's last two films, "Down and Out in Beverly Hills" and "Ruthless People") settle down in one location and explore their characters, finding humor in human nature instead of in a lot of expensive physical stunts.

"Outrageous Fortune" has a climax that must have been expensive and dangerous to film, but it's a waste of time. The plot requires Long to leap from one towering desert rock formation to another, while she's chased by the bad guys. The whole sequence breaks down for two reasons: (1) The stunt is so dangerous that it distracts from any latent comedy, and (2) we're so busy trying to spot when they're using the stunt doubles that we lose any remaining interest in the plot.

Sky Movies

A hard-cursing but outrageously funny comedy-thriller with Shelley Long and Bette Midler working wonderfully well together as aspiring actresses duped by Romeo teacher Peter Coyote who turns out to be an international double-agent. Forget the plot, though, and savour some very funny dialogue mostly delivered by Midler as a bit-part film player who has just appeared in a movie called Ninja Vixens and now horrifies high-minded Shakespearian Long by enrolling in the same acting class. At first dismissive of Midler's relationship with Coyote and protective of her own - 'Not the kind you're used to. No money changed hands' - Long soon jumps figuratively into bed with her rival to set off in pursuit of the wily Coyote. You can forecast the finale, but the film remains fun to the very end. I laughed like a drain.