Picks and Pans Review: Tin Men

updated 03/16/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/16/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

For starters, this is the best comedy film ever made about the aluminum siding business. It's also a comedy with a sober undertone, one of those clouds with the silver lining turned inside out. Subtly written and directed by Barry Levinson, it is a kind of sequel to his Diner, set in Baltimore in 1963. Danny DeVito and Richard Dreyfuss are two siding salesmen—"tin men" to people in the trade. They meet when they have a car accident; each blames the other and a peculiar vendetta develops. Dreyfuss finds DeVito's car and smashes its headlights; DeVito finds Dreyfuss' and shatters the windshield. Dreyfuss escalates things by seducing DeVito's wife, Barbara Hershey; DeVito tells him he's glad to be rid of her. Both Dreyfuss and DeVito give striking performances, natural, wry and convincing. DeVito in particular, finally provided with a role that doesn't force him to mug constantly, creates a realistically rounded character. The supporting cast is engaging too. Hershey is quite touching as she finds herself falling in love with Dreyfuss. Comedian Jackie Gayle and J.T. (Power) Walsh are especially strong among the small crowd of people playing salesmen. In one scene in the diner, DeVito and his cronies argue about The Ed Sullivan Show—whether it's more entertaining to see the jugglers who spin plates on sticks or Señor Wences. Beneath the frivolous surface, though, the plot is disquieting. DeVito's life is falling apart. The IRS is after him, he's in a selling slump and a government commission is about to investigate the often fraudulent siding sales practices. Dreyfuss too is ill at ease about his life. "I've had a lot of training in deceit," he says. "It's an occupational hazard." The whole film, in fact, seems like a rumination on honesty—when it works and when it doesn't. Its wit and intelligence suggest, as have all Levinson's films (even the erratic The Natural), that he is trying to communicate with his audiences, not put something over on them. (R)

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