But if it isn't a very good farce, at least it isn't bad in the same way as most bad American farces. If the script is thin and predictable, at least director Fernando Trueba doesn't pummel us with it--his touch is gratifyingly light.
Trueba, the witty Spaniard who directed Belle Epoque, that pleasing feature-length version of a farmer's-daughter joke, wrote the script for Two Much in Spanish, in collaboration with his younger brother David (it's based--loosely--on a Donald E. Westlake novel). Their script was then translated into English and given a polish by Paul Diamond, the son of Billy Wilder's writing partner I.A.L. Diamond.
This pedigree indicates what Fernando Trueba was after--recapturing the style of classic screwball comedies. Something got lost in the translation--the script is painfully light on verbal wit--but even if it were a perfect model of screwball construction, it wouldn't necessarily make the film work. Recapturing, as opposed to reinventing, an old-fashioned style can be risky because even in the unlikely event of success, the result may be no more than an ersatz antique.
Still, Trueba may yet pull off a reinvention, ifallowed to keep trying. He has an understanding of the breezy feel so essential to this sort of farce. His comic set pieces--like Art Dodge's shuttling between his lovers' bedrooms via an adjoining exercise room--don't drive you crazy with laughter, but neither are they tedious ordeals, and that, given the state of contemporary farce, is really saying something.
Trueba gets a good performance out of his star, too. Banderas first came to wide international notice, after all, as a leading man in Pedro Almodóvar's comedies, and the best element of his performance in his first real star vehicle in this country, Desperado, was the touch of comic mildness he brought to the slaughter. If American filmmakers would stop assuming that every good-looking Latin actor can do nothing but smolder, Banderas might prove a delightful clown.
There are many hints to this effect in Two Much--he brings real timing and precision to scenes like the simulated argument in which Art takes both sides, switching from one "brother" to the other. And a thick accent can be a boon to a farceur. When Banderas speaks the line "It's Art" over the phone, it sounds as if he's saying "It's hard."
The rest of the cast is adequate--and little more. Hannah and Griffith both look stunning and are serviceable foils for the wackiness going on in their peripheral vision, but they don't really contribute to it. As Art's father, Eli Wallach is amiable as ever, but he doesn't bring much more to the party except, maybe, the humor inherent in the idea that he's the father of Antonio Banderas.
Vincent Schiavelli has a nice, quick bit as a snooty sommelier, but the only consistent pleasure in the cast is Joan Cusack as Art's wisecracking gallery receptionist and resident conscience. Her vigorous mockery cracks up the audience every time we see her--if she had been Banderas' leading lady, the picture might have truly taken off. When, when, when will this wonderful actress get her due?
Last week, I received a press release from the producers of a film called 21, which is to be completed this summer after a location shoot here in the Valley.
According to the release, here's what 21--which is to co-star Wayman Tisdale of the Phoenix Suns and Shawn Kemp of the Seattle Sonics--is about: "... a police detective's struggle to deal with the tragedies that have befallen his wife and sister, while at the same time trying to keep his younger brother free from the gangster and supernatural forces fighting for control of his life.
"Neighborhood basketball scenes weave throughout the storyline." However, says producer Tito Salgado, "the film is not a basketball story, but more a story of an inner-city family struggling against natural and supernatural forces, with even some time travel thrown in." Talk about covering all commercial bases. I eagerly await this film.--M. V. Moorhead
Directed by Fernando Trueba; with Antonio Banderas, Melanie Griffith, Daryl Hannah, Eli Wallach, Joan Cusack, Danny Aiello, Gabino Diego and Phil Leeds.