Volume 93, Issue 83

Wednesday, March 8, 2000


Planet is exercise in comedic impotence

Madonna's Best Thing barely a consolation

Midler's latest sinks and swims

Angie Stone's debut glitters, Snoop's effort glides

Midler's latest sinks and swims

Gazette file photos
HEY CHIEF, I (hic) THINK I'M LOSING THIS "SCREAMIN NUMBERS" GAME. Bette Midler shows off her capacity to intake fluid for Danny DeVito in Drowning Mona

By Terry Warne
Gazette Staff

Expect the unexpected from a film which opens with the title character plummeting to her death.

Drowning Mona is a quirky ensemble piece which is both a comedy and a whodunit. The film revolves around an investigation following the death of Mona Dearly (Bette Midler), a despised resident of a little town in upstate New York. The case is undertaken by Wyatt Rash, a shuffling, ambling, aw-shucks police chief played by Danny DeVito. Rash has the unenviable task of having to deal with far too many suspects for the murder.

There's the trashy waitress Rona (Jamie Lee Curtis), who happens to have carnal knowledge of both Mona's husband and son. Also suspect are a young couple named Bobby and Ellen (played by Casey Affleck and Neve Campbell), whose lives are being ruined by their association with Mona and her family. In fact, it seems that just about everyone has a reason to want Mona dead.

The film contains moments of truly inspired comedy – for example, the town in which the movie is set is a test market for the Yugo. In a brilliant sight gag, all the residents race around in cars which are ridiculously small. Complementing the visual gags is some disturbingly funny dialogue. One scene shows a friend scolding another for flirting with a young teenage girl. "She's 13!" says the friend in disbelief, to which the other replies, "Yeah, finally."

The cast remain unchallenged by their light roles, as most of them toss off stereotypical portrayals of small town yokels. DeVito shuffles through the movie whistling show tunes, Curtis chain-smokes and does her best white-trash imitation and Campbell is, well... Campbell.

Interestingly, Midler is disturbingly adept at portraying someone so detestable. In the "thanks for coming out department," Affleck's spaced-out character seems to space right out of the movie during certain scenes. The funniest role overall belongs to Will Ferrell, who shows up as the most ridiculous undertaker ever to grace the screen.

While containing some classic moments, Drowning Mona fails to provide a concrete story. Screenwriter Peter Steinfeld tries to incorporate too much into his script. It often appears that during moments of the film, he suddenly realizes he has to throw out some suspects in order to keep the murder angle on track. Steinfeld seems much more interested in going for the laugh – which is not entirely bad, as long as one remembers to tend to the rest of the story.

Unfortunately, the whodunit portion of the film isn't very engrossing. This becomes most obvious at the conclusion, when viewers will be hard pressed not to confusedly mutter, "What the hell was that?"

Fortunately, the moments of hilarity and some good acting make this a watchable film.

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