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Home Fries

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Home Fries

Starring: Drew Barrymore, Luke Wilson
Director: Dean Parisot
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 93 Minutes
Release Date: November 1998
Genres: Comedy, Romance, Suspense

*Also starring: Catherine O'Hara, Jake Busey

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
1½ stars out of 4

Oh, what a difference a Coen brother makes. Or rather, the lack thereof. More than anything, "Home Fries" wants to be a black comedy in the vein of "Fargo" or "Raising Arizona," but the film lacks Joel and Ethan Coen and their skewed sensibilities. The result is a strained, pedestrian effort that fires off all its rockets, but never attains escape velocity. Despite some nice moments, "Home Fries" remains a flat little curiosity.

Set in Texas, the story revolves around Sally (Drew Barrymore), a sweet, sad, very pregnant fast-food cashier at the Burger-Matic. While taking drive-through orders one night, she picks up some strange chatter over her headset. In fact, she is listening to brothers Angus (Jake Busey) and Dorian (Luke Wilson) who, at the behest of their mother (Catherine O'Hara), are piloting a helicopter in an attempt to scare the bejesus out of their philandering stepfather. The stunt works all too well - - Dad has a heart-attack and dies.

The fatality leaves Mom quite annoyed and the boys very worried: they also heard Sally over their headsets and have no idea how much she knows. So Dorian takes a job at the burger joint to do some reconnaissance work. At this point, you surely can figure out the rest. The dead stepfather is, of course, the father of Sally's unborn child. Sally, of course, broke things off as soon as she found out he was married and Dorian, of course, is destined to fall in love with the comely lass.

Some scenes in "Home Fries" work. When authorities find the corpse sitting upright in the middle of nowhere, one cop has his picture taken with the body ("I'll go to Hell for this," he chuckles, "but I can't resist"). A hostage situation involving Sally's drunk, shotgun-wielding hillbilly pappy degenerates into a family squabble that achieves a certain Jerry Springer-style absurdist comic rhythm. Unfortunately, these are rare successful moments in a black comedy that too often is merely gray.

Director Dean Parisot simply lacks the skills to mix irreverent humor and a traditional romance. His production feels as half-baked as the romance between Sally and Dorian is unconvincing. Never for a moment do you sense any chemistry between the two characters. Luke Wilson, who looks a lot like Freddie Prinze Jr. with lockjaw, projects a sincere, mildly dazed charm, and, as always, the angelic Drew Barrymore is sweet as can be, but their characters behave as if they are in two separate movies.

Catherine O'Hara, as the vengeance-obsessed widow, and Jake Busey, as a psychotic mama's boy, are more effective, but both suffer from incomplete story arcs. Just as their characters near the point in the film where their mayhem should reach its manic climax, things wrap up abruptly, snuffing the comic payoff. I've no idea whether the choppy resolution of their stories is the result of sloppy writing or poor editing, but the unfinished feel is quite frustrating.

Frustrating is the best overall word for "Home Fries." You know what the filmmakers were shooting for, and, every so often, they actually hit their target. But the many near-misses and overall tepid feel just made me want to slap a Coen brothers movie in the VCR and watch how the big boys do black comedy.

Copyright 1998 Edward Johnson-Ott

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