Warner Bros. // 1986 // 91 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // September 8th, 2013
What kind of guys gamble with the boss's money, swipe a killer's Cadillac, and party on the mob's credit card?
Harry Valentini (Danny DeVito, The War of the Roses) and his best friend Moe Dickstein (Joe Piscopo, Johnny Dangerously) make their living working as gophers for one of Newark's toughest mafia bosses (Dan Hedaya, Alien: Resurrection). When Harry and Moe are instructed to head the racetrack to place a bet for their boss, they switch horses in the hopes of winning a big score. Instead, their horse loses the race and in the process they now owe their boss thousands of dollars. After being tortured for their insolence, the two men are coerced into agreeing to whack the other one, unaware that each has made the same separate deal with their sadistic boss!
Between the movie that launched a thousand 'gangsta-style' movie posters, Scarface, and the acclaimed mafia drama Carlito's Way, there was Wise Guys, Brian DePalma's stab at mobster comedy featuring Danny DeVito and Joe Piscopo as best buddies who get in over their heads against the mob. If nothing else, Wise Guys is fascinating to watch because the cast is packed with actors who normally don't share the screen: you've got popular actor Danny DeVito, Saturday Night Live alum and "Where are they now?" comedian Joe Piscopo, Bad Lieutenant's Harvey Kietel, WWF wrestling manager "Captain" Lou Albano, Goodfellas' Frank Vincent, and Broadway legend Patti LuPone. Talk about a cinematic cornucopia of actors!
I really wanted to like Wise Guys in the same way that you want to like a puppy you find out likes to chew on your toes when you're sleeping. On the surface it looks cute and amusing, but after a while it just turns into a mild nuisance. That pretty much sums up my feelings about DePalma's comedic misfire of a movie. Many of the gags hold potential -- as when Piscopo's character inadvertently becomes a guinea pig for his boss's new bulletproof dress jackets -- but fall flat because their execution and pacing are mostly lifeless. The film doesn't have the guts to go as silly and wacky as the material requires, so it feels as if it was neutered along the way. I smiled twice and laughed a grand total of once, and that was more of a polite chuckle than an out-and-out guffaw.
The acting in Wise Guys is all over the place. Danny DeVito is the most amusing because, well, he's Danny DeVito. Joe Piscopo struggles to be funny under the weight of George Gallo's (Midnight Run) spotty screenplay that confuses desperation for comedy, bugging out his eyes and having mini-meltdowns as if he's just spotted the ghost of Don Knotts. "Captain" Lou Albano spends the entire film yelling at people and calling them "dick face," because clearly hearing a heavyset Italian man yell "dick face" is supposed to be inherently funny. At least there's the always entertaining Dan Hedaya as a mob boss who likes throwing his lackeys into tanks filled with angry lobsters. He's the film's saving grace, although there isn't much of a movie to save here.
Wise Guys is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The film was previously released on DVD by Warner, unseen by me. I have the feeling Warner Brothers used the same transfer, as this looks a lot better than most of the Warner Archive titles I've seen. Colors are bright and black levels solid and the image looks mostly clean without any major imperfections. Overall, this is a good looking video transfer. The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono in English and French. The audio mix is very front heavy without any directional effects or surround sounds. No subtitles are included with this release.
As with most Warner Archive titles, Wise Guys does not include any extra features.
As I write this, I can't even recall most of the "jokes" I witnessed during Wise Guys because they just weren't funny. It's a shame that DePalma couldn't figure out a way to really sell this material with true zeal. The whole endeavor feels sadly like an afterthought, as if the screenplay was half finished and the producers decided they need something, anything, to throw into theaters.
A mostly forgotten mid-1980s comedy, and for good reason -- it's utterly forgettable.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 1986
MPAA Rating: Rated R