Warner Bros. // 1987 // 92 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Chief Counsel Rob Lineberger (Retired) // March 3rd, 2006
A funny thing happened on the way to the bus station.
Madonna brings her pop sensibility and incomparable thespian talents to this '80s riff on Bringing Up Baby.
Up-and-coming attorney Louden Trott (Griffin Dunne, Blonde) is engaged to the boss's daughter Wendy Worthington (Haviland Morris, Home Alone 3). Louden gets the feeling that Simon Worthington (John McMartin, Kinsey) is not crazy about his soon-to-be son in-law. We get the feeling that Wendy isn't crazy about Louden either -- beyond his potential usefulness.
Simon instructs his unfortunate underling to pick up a woman who has just been paroled and drop her off at the bus station. This fits inconveniently among Louden's other tasks for the day, such as buying a ring, getting fitted for a tux, picking up a rare cougar, and getting his work done. Nonetheless, he meets the "delightful" Nikki Finn (Madonna, Body of Evidence) and attempts to take her to the bus station.
Things go awry. The cougar is in heat, the police are on Nikki's tail, and she has a jones to clear her name before going back to Philly. Hijinks of epic proportions ensue. Will Nikki and the wacky cast of characters show Louden the error of his ways and clear Nikki's name -- just in the nick of time?
With this 2006 DVD release, Warner Brothers introduces another generation to Madonna's incomparable thespian talents. In fact, she won a leading Actress award in 1987 for Who's That Girl? -- a Razzie Award for Worst Actress.
One of the entertainment industry's oft-stated sayings is that Madonna is a stellar pop musician but a wretched actress. I always thought such snark was tainted with a hint of sour grapes, a bit of "hate the popular gal" syndrome. Those days of innocence are, unfortunately, gone. The grapes couldn't be sourer, but the stench emanates from the Material Girl herself, not her detractors.
In a twisted way, I can see what the writers and Madonna were trying to accomplish. They wanted to make Nikki a tough-on-the-outside, kind-on-the-inside oddball with camouflaged good looks and street smarts. Here's the thing: Madonna is plenty quirky enough already. She didn't capture the hearts and wallets of millions of fans, nor stay atop the charts for decades, by being bland. She already has a vibe that works. Why ruin her mystique by giving her an affected, nasally drone and an injection of ditz? The result of taking a maverick like Madonna and cranking up Nikki's eccentricities is a character that we can barely tolerate. When her fire engine-red lips start moving, I want to crawl inside of the couch cushions and plug my ears with stuffing to stop the assault. When she skips down the street, laughing in her best Fran Drescher impersonation, I pray for a stray tranquilizer dart to strike her in the back of the neck. All this intense disdain for a woman who otherwise made the '80s a better place, whose peppy songs and hot looks ushered in the current pop music scene.
Nikki is not the only annoying character, not by a long shot. The cops who follow her (played by Robert Swan and Drew Pillsbury) could not have been stupider. I mean stupid in every sense, from pointless to intellectually null. Ethnic hoods are as abjectly overplayed as the rich white folk. The parade of buffoonery is so extensive that I had cringes within larger cringes. The most common feeling I experienced in the interminable 92 minutes of this film was sympathetic pangs of revulsion.
The only actor to emerge from this mess with a shred of dignity is Griffin Dunne. Louden is the straight man to a three ring circus of crap. His self-effacing manner and believable sense of outrage are charming because Dunne has good timing and subtle delivery: "We did one of your things already. We murdered the pimp and the fat man. Now it's time to do one of my things." Who's That Girl? has moments of humor that work -- it's just that they're eclipsed by steaming piles of corpulent pap.
I haven't talked much about the plot, and I'd rather avoid it if I can. Let's just say that after watching Who's That Girl?, you'll get 25 percent more of the jokes in The Wedding Singer. There is little in this movie that is not a poor rehash.
Aside from an enclave of patient Madonna supporters who have sentimental attachment to this misfire, few people on this planet are likely to enjoy this movie.
Even though it is a soulless '80s flick, Who's That Girl? displays Warner's gift of the grand. Though the gags in the movie rest on a shaky foundation, the execution does not. This is a big-budget, glorious riot of sets, costumes, and people. The sheer spectacle of some scenes is enough to coax viewers back out from their wombs of couch stuffing.
The opening credits are particularly impressive. In a quirky spin on the famous video for A-Ha's "Take on Me," Nikki Finn's backstory is told in splashy animation. In fact, if you somehow get stuck with this disc, I suggest you watch the opening credits a couple of times, meditate for a few minutes on the potential movie that might follow, and skip to the rousing closing credits. You'll be happier.
Warner Brothers has done its usual fantastic job with the transfer. Aside from a minute sense of color bleeding, this transfer is packed with detail, color fidelity, contrast, and clarity. The grain is fine, like a burnished antique. The big budget shows up on the screen. I noticed periodic aural fluctuations, as though the soundtrack may have deteriorated a little with time in some places. Otherwise, the soundtrack is full and clear, with great stereo separation and depth.
As an '80s time capsule, Who's That Girl? has a modicum of anthropological interest. As a cohesive work of entertainment, it misfires broadly.
Parole is hereby revoked. That Girl must carry out the remainder of her sentence.
Review content copyright © 2006 Rob Lineberger; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 1987
MPAA Rating: Rated PG