Fox // 1989 // 116 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // December 13th, 2001
"What's the moral? Other than dog people should marry dog people and cat people should marry cat people." -- Danny DeVito, The War Of The Roses
When love is in full swing it can be one of the most euphoric and exciting human emotions ever felt. However, when love goes sour it can turn a man or woman into a raving lunatic filled with rage, hate, and multiple divorce lawyers. Such is the case of Danny DeVito's thick, viscous black comedy The War Of The Roses. Come one, come all and see the horrible things that transpire when Barbara and Oliver Rose battle to the death for houses, cars and that everything else they every owned together! Starring Michael Douglas (The Game), Kathleen Turner (Who Framed Roger Rabbit?) and Mr. DeVito himself (Throw Mama From The Train), The War Of The Roses wages it's war across a special edition DVD care of Fox Home Entertainment.
After eighteen years of marriage, Oliver (Douglas) and Barbara (Turner) Rose are ready to celebrate...their divorce. Whatever spark that originally ignited their flame of love is now dead, and Barbara has requested a divorce from poor old Oliver. At first things go surprisingly well; Barbara asks for no alimony in exchange for the house and all its contents. However, Oliver is not ready to part with the house, decreeing that she'll get the house over his dead body (to the objection of Oliver's calculating divorce lawyer Gavin, played by Danny DeVito with a sparkle in his eye). What ensues is a spiteful and hilarious battle over the mansion and its contents to the end -- the absolute bitter end!
I'm one of the lucky kids that never worried about his parents divorcing. My mother and father have been married for over thirty years and while it's not always sunshine and candy corn, their marriage has generally been a fruitful and enjoyable one. However, I have seen the ugly repercussions of divorce among some of my friend's families, and as you know, it ain't pretty. There are a few things in life that, as a rule, aren't very funny: death, rape, terrorism, and divorce. Whenever a film is made about a subject that isn't initially a typical "funny" topic it's listed as a black comedy. The War Of The Roses is most surely that. In the same vein as Very Bad Things and Throw Mama From The Train, The War Of The Roses attempts (and often succeeds) in finding humor in the most evil of divorce procedures.
I'm one of those weird people who really enjoys a good black comedy. It's not that I'm a mean-spirited or malicious person; in fact, I think that I'm somewhat of a pussycat (ladies, take a note and take a number). Sometimes I just get in the mood to have a good hearty laugh at something that I shouldn't find very funny. I recall seeing Very Bad Things in theaters and was almost appalled at how much I laughed at a film about the death of a prostitute, the handicapped, and dismemberment with a chainsaw. The same can be said for The War Of The Roses (minus the chainsaw). This is a movie that finds chuckles in some unusual areas; turning a dog into pate, biting a man's penis and publicly urinating on the main course at a dinner party. Director Danny DeVito has treaded familiar territory before with his weird and offbeat comedy Throw Mama From The Train, a film about planning a double murder that includes your own mother. In The War Of The Roses DeVito wrings moving and funny performances out of both Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas (who had teamed up previously with DeVito in Robert Zemeckis' Romancing The Stone and its sequel The Jewel Of The Nile). While Michael Douglas is often looked at as a dramatic actor, I don't think many people realize that he's very adept at doing comedy. Here Douglas finds just the right tone between lustful revenge and placid frustration to make Oliver a memorable character. Turner plays Barbara with all the iciness of the North Pole, while continuously staying sexy (oh that voice...oh those lips...oh those LEGS!). I heartily believed that these two people once had a love so passionate that it could set the world on fire -- then I believed that they had a hatred for each other that ran so deep it could dig its way to China. DeVito has an excellent script to work off of, and the inclusion of actor Sean Astin (the upcoming The Lord Of The Rings trilogy) as the Roses's son only sweetens the deal. The whole thing is told by DeVito's character Gavin, a portly lawyer who is reciting the story of the Roses case for a client (played by The Simpsons actor Dan Castellaneta) who is contemplating his own divorce.
The script (adapted from Warren Adler's novel) is filled with funny revenge scenarios and outrageous moments. If you've ever had vengeful fantasies but never wanted to act on them, The War Of The Roses should satisfy your desires. The last forty minutes of the film is based on a cat and mouse chase as Barbara and Oliver feud throughout their entire house, from the sauna to the chandelier. With a dark ending and some funny twists, The War Of The Roses is devilishly fun -- make sure to watch it with someone you hate.
The War Of The Roses is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Fox has done a nice job on this transfer, making sure that the black levels (of which there are many) are deep and thick while the colors (of which there are little) are bright and even. There was a small amount of grain on the print, as well as some edge enhancement in a few key scenes. Otherwise, this is a very nice looking transfer by Fox that should please fans.
Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono in French and English. This Dolby 2.0 soundtrack works well in the confines of the film but is hardly close to impressive. The sound sometimes seemed to be a tad low, and overall fidelity and depth were sorely missing. Dialogue, effects, and composer David Newman's delicious music score are all free of distortion or hiss. Also included on this disc are subtitles in English and Spanish.
The War Of The Roses is presented in a new "special edition" that starts off with a commentary track by director/actor Danny DeVito. DeVito wastes no time in getting into this track -- in fact, the track almost sounds very scripted rather than spontaneous and random. While this track isn't very funny, it is extremely informative and detailed. In the "deleted scenes montage," DeVito does an introduction to some of the material that was cut from the film. The introduction and subsequent closing by DeVito is very funny (he was worried about our "attention spans," which is why the film was edited down from three hours to only about two hours). The deleted scenes consist of about fifteen minutes worth of material that is funny, but ultimately needless to the final cut of the movie. Next up is a collection of "storyboards" that features four separate scenes you can flip through on your DVD remote control. Each scene includes a sketch, then a photo still from the film to match the drawing There are also some sketches of the house and some computer sketches done by Danny DeVito, the entire shooting script, and a still gallery. Finally, there are six TV spots presented in full frame, as well as four theatrical trailers presented in anamorphic widescreen.
For some viewers The War Of The Roses will be a tough watch -- maybe too tough. There are moments in the film where DeVito and company come close to the edge of tasteful comedy, then decide to spit off it with mocking glee. Viewers take heed: this is not a light-hearted film that will make you feel all gooey inside. As the cover of the case says, "Once in a lifetime comes a motion picture that makes you feel like falling in love again. This is not that movie."
I couldn't have said it any better if I tried.
The sick and twisted among you will enjoy the bawdy comedy that The War Of The Roses has to offer. The script is punctuated with funny moments, the performances are all grand, and the direction by Danny DeVito is top notch. The DVD itself is a well done edition, though a newly remixed Dolby 5.1 track would have been preferred.
My sadomasochistic side says to let this one go free! Case dismissed...that'll be $450, please.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 116 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Commentary by Director Danny DeVito
* Deleted Scenes Montage
* Six TV Spots
* Four Theatrical Trailers
* Still Gallery