Saturday, August 22, 2009
A Loss Of Inhibitions
BLIND DATE is the sort of film that you'd think would be on cable constantly but it seems to have disappeared from the airwaves in recent years. I can’t bring myself to get very worked up over this. Directed by Blake Edwards and primarily sold as the first big-screen vehicle for Bruce Willis in March 1987, the film was made near the tail end of an extremely busy decade for the director and it feels considerably less personal than even a few of his considerably broader entries from around this time. The screenplay is credited to Dale Launer (who also wrote RUTHLESS PEOPLE and DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS) and maybe it says something about its relative normalcy that unlike a number of other films which are billed as Blake Edwards’ followed by the title, this one is simply “A Blake Edwards Film” almost as if to separate it slightly from the pack. There are a few nice things in here so I don’t totally mind it but it unfortunately gets weaker as it goes on and seems to surrender to a lack of logic and, ultimately, actual laughs.
Overworked, overstressed “assistant portfolio assessor” Walter Davis (Bruce Willis), who is badly in need of a date for an important business dinner lets his brother Ted (Phil Hartman) set him up with his wife’s cousin Nadia Gates (Kim Basinger) with the simple warning to not let her drink because “she loses control.” The two tentatively hit it off but to relieve some of the awkwardness Walter picks up champagne which they share before heading to dinner. She reluctantly joins in but by the time they hit the restaurant Nadia is indeed beginning to lose control, sending Walter spiraling into a nightmare of an evening which, combined with the appearance of Nadia’s ex David (John Larroquette), may end with his life in shambles and maybe even going to jail for a very long time.
The very first scene includes Rick Dees’ show heard on the radio, featuring a parody ad for the “James Brown Car Alarm”. It’s an odd note to start a movie on, with a joke that isn’t really part of the movie. It may be a reach but looked at now this seems almost intentional, as if Edwards is saying that the humor in this movie isn’t quite going to be his, but it will be as broad as humanly possible. Something as farcically divorced from reality as A FINE MESS at least seemed like it could have been directed by no one else working and BLIND DATE, even with a few digressions, seems a bit more normal and (I can’t help but assume this was the intention) commercial by comparison, which doesn’t really go with what the material should be. The notion of Basinger easily getting drunk and losing her inhibitions might make sense in a pitch-black satire (one that would be right in this director’s wheelhouse) but doesn’t really lend itself to light romantic comedy—in one of the few interesting touches, Edwards foreshadows her condition by having her addicted to chocolate, just like Lee Remick in THE DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES. A little too often it feels like Edwards is playing to the cheap seats, like the early joke of Hartman boasting of how good-looking Basinger is—“I’m looking at a picture of her now,” he claims when he’s really looking at a picture of Marvin Hagler, adding “She’s a real knockout”.
Signs of a real presence behind the camera pop up through out, from the impressive long takes that play out whole scenes in one shot or the well-executed chaos of the business dinner scene that is the reason for the plot in the first place—at this early stage the movie is really popping and the entire sequence, particularly when compared to a similar section in the current THE UGLY TRUTH (yes, I saw it—trust me, there was a good reason but it was still lousy) is extremely well-executed in writing, pacing and acting. It’s also hard not to enjoy Edwards’ insistence on the running gag of Larroquette’s car crashing into numerous buildings (when it crashes into a flour factory it of course results in a veritable explosion of flour). But the whole thing seems to run out of ideas—and, in numerous ways, a reason for existing—by around the one hour mark. It’s as if the script was being made up as it was written, then when the story hit a wall sixty pages in it never occurred to anyone to go back to change things. In fairness to screenwriter Launer, the bio on his official website calls the film a “lame, slapstick piece of shit,” (his own words) also stating that the script was rewritten at different points by Edwards and Leslie Dixon.
The film could be a lighter, L.A.-set AFTER HOURS but it never reaches the heights of mania it really should and even simple logic never seems to be part of the movie’s game plan like why Willis buys champagne for her, why Basinger drinks it, or why either one of them want to ever see each other again when the night is over. If we can’t believe what they’re doing at first, how can we believe them later on when total farce has taken over? Does anyone really care whether Bruce Willis’s character gets back into music? When it moves into the third act, featuring Larroquette’s character attempting to blackmail Basinger into marriage it just feels like the wrong creative choices have been made. Even when presented with people in a large house just missing each other in farcical fashion, which you’d think Edwards could turn into a crackerjack sequence of event, it still falls flat even with doors slamming and people falling off of balconies it never hits any kind of stride. Most of the sneaking around Bruce Willis does here seems to have next to no effect in the end which makes it seem like the movie is just treading water before the climax. The end, incidentally, makes me wonder if there isn’t a rule stating that if the final scene of a romantic comedy has both leads jumping into a swimming pool the movie can’t be any good, then there should be. There’s also a mean attack dog named Rambo, so here’s an elemental Comedy Question—is it funny to have an attack dog named Rambo? Wouldn’t it be an actual joke if the big mean attack dog was named something like Princess? It just feels like another example of a number of attempts at laughs throughout that are probably a little too easy but never succeed in being all that funny. Something like that makes me really wonder if Edwards was just decided to play things a little easy this time and not go into wild flights of comic fancy like in a few of his other films.
Bruce Willis at least was able to prove that he could pop on the big screen but the role, pretty much the opposite of MOONLIGHTING’s David Addison, is a little too much of a straight man to be appropriate for him and, no surprise, he only begins to really come to life when his character begins to crack and goes nutso at a fancy party—you could also say that, since this is how we actually expect to see him it’s not as effective or funny as it should be. Basinger (who already worked with Edwards in THE MAN WHO LOVED WOMEN) isn’t bad and plays the drunk scenes with the appropriate recklessness but doesn’t seem quite able to fully make sense of her character. I’ve also never been crazy about how she looks here—Basinger always looked better as a blonde. Larroquette, ideally cast, works considerably better and is most effective in the scenes where his character has to act craziest. He’s also very good at screaming wildly before his car crashes into a building. Familiar character actors George Coe and Mark Blum are very good as Walter’s boss and coworker but they’re each unfortunately out of the picture by the half-hour mark. Phil Hartman has some nice moments, William Daniels gets a few funny lines during the final third, PINK PANTHER series regular Graham Stark turns up as William Daniels’s butler (his introduction seems like a conscious echo of his role in VICTOR/VICTORIA) and Edwards regular Dr. Herb Tanney appears as the minister in the final sequence, billed as Sacerdo Tanney. The score is of course by Henry Mancini but, surprisingly for him, very little about it makes any real impression. "Piano and Strings" from the PINK PANTHER soundtrack turns up in the background during the business dinner sequence, not that I've heard some of this music too many times or anything.
Set in more of a normal romantic-comedy world, as opposed to the Blake Edwards world familiar things like the PINK PANTHER movies or even the broadest jokes in something like “10”, the film is barely able to get through a couple of minutes without fashions or music turning up that scream “80s!” in the loudest way possible. The movie is disappointing not just from its lack of real laughs but also from how the director really seems to be trying to make a star vehicle more than one of his own films which results in a finished product that just feels kind of thin. There are a handful of laughs but not enough. Still, it was one of his more successful pictures from this period so maybe he was onto something. I’ve made it clear in the past how much I’ll defend some of his films that most of the world hates--and I'll go on defending them--but BLIND DATE just seems like one he had to make to keep certain people happy so he could get back to making the ones that he was really interested in. It’ll turn up on cable again eventually, but you don’t need to go out of your way to give it another look.