Picks and Pans Review: Down and Out in Beverly Hills
Although you can't tell from this one-joke comedy, director Paul Mazursky is perhaps the most savvy cultural commentator in American movies. An Unmarried Woman and Moscow on the Hudson bear witness to that. But Mazursky mixes those original efforts with Americanized versions of European film classics. This time he grafts Jean Renoir's 1932 masterwork Boudu Saved From Drowning onto a modern Beverly Hills setting. Richard Dreyfuss and Bette Midler are the nouveau gauche couple who take in hobo Nick Nolte after he attempts suicide in their pool. It's a terrific idea, but as with such past Mazursky hybrids as Alex in Wonderland (his Fellini tribute) and Willie and Phil (à la Truffaut), you wonder why Mazursky insists on playing cultural ambassador. Overly faithful to Boudu at times, he's stuck with a schematic tale of salvation—Nolte systematically brings happiness to each family member. Even when Mazursky cuts loose on today's fads—dog psychiatrists, fire walking, a teenage son who only talks to his parents via videotape—the comedy plays like déjà vu. The unholy trinity in the leads, Dreyfuss, Midler and, to a lesser degree, Nolte give italicized, condescending performances. It's the kind of acting in which the stars wink at an audience to say, "We're not really like these icky people." The audience is told only that these folks are superficial and silly—the outlook of those Rodeo Drive jokes that populate Johnny Carson's monologues. It's surprising Mazursky suffers from such a poverty of perspective. (R)
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