Let's see... Eighties stage play about ruthless corporate greed... Judge Joel Pearce weighs in on its admissibility to the DVD format.
Meet Larry the liquidator. Arrogant. Greedy. Ruthless. You gotta love the guy.
Other People's Money is adapted from an off Broadway play during the height of the "me" decade and the now lost confidence in Corporate America. There are a few problems with it, but Other People's Money is bolstered by a pair of great performances. Too bad that it's so out of date.
Facts of the Case
Laurence Garfield (Danny DeVito, Big Fish) is famous for one thing. He loves liquidating companies for profit, and has gained a reputation for being both good at it and inhumanly ruthless about it. When he sets his sights on New England Wire and Cable, run by patriarch Andrew Jorgenson (Gregory Peck, To Kill a Mockingbird), things don't go as smoothly for him as they usually do. In fear for his company, Jorgenson brings in his wife's daughter Kate (Penelope Ann Miller, Carlito's Way. Kate is a young, attractive, hotshot lawyer who might just be slick enough to turn Laurence's game against him.
The problem with adapting stage plays to film is that they often still feel like stage plays. The good news about Other People's Money is that the film's design never falls into that trap. The film features a wide range of locations, which stretches the scope of the original script. Although it's not an action packed film, the cinematography and editing don't make it feel too talky either.
What doesn't escape the stage play trap is the script. The dialogue is clever and sharp, but feels too clever for its own good. It's the kind of banter that works on stage when everything is larger than life and the audience is there with the realization that they are being performed to, but a film doesn't have that same relationship with the audience. The dialogue in Other People's Money often feels too calculated and controlled.
The other serious flaw in the script is the relationship between Larry and Kate that develops almost immediately. Was Larry meant to be devilishly handsome in the original? Why is Kate so immediately drawn to this silly, rude, horny little man? It's not likely his appearance, and it's definitely not his pleasant demeanor. The sexual tension bomb is dropped awfully early on, and it never seems plausible. The tension is there so quickly that I wondered halfway through the film if maybe they actually knew each other already, and were somehow playing a scam together.
Fortunately, two great performers play those roles, which softens the impact of the script's flaws. Danny DeVito does a great job with his dialogue, making it feel as smooth as he can. At times, it even stops feeling like stage dialogue, which is an impressive feat. Penelope Ann Miller digs into her role with just as much gusto, making her reactions to him amusing, at least. It doesn't make things any more believable, but it helps make Other People's Money watchable. Their roles are so well performed that it's difficult to tell when they are playing games and when they are being sincere. This confusion is a problem they have while dealing with each other, and we get to puzzle it out as well. The supporting cast is excellent, staying out of the way for the most part. Gregory Peck's work stands out as he plays the bulldog that refuses to lose the company he loves so much.
The biggest struggle I had with the movie comes out of the tagline: "You gotta love the guy." I don't. I think he's a character that starts out terrible and doesn't get much better by the end. This wouldn't be a problem if it were played as though we were supposed to hate him, but we are obviously supposed to grow attached to him over the course of the film. Larry only cares about money, and plays games with Kate (I realize they are both playing games, but still). He objectifies her, does anything it takes to get what he wants, and then expects us to love him at the end. Maybe it's just me, a leftist Canadian and a corporation hater, but it's going to take a lot of work for me to forgive him these flaws. Kate isn't much better, and their conflict is more painful than funny. Both of these characters must have played a lot better 20 years ago, but they were already out of date in 1991, and they're downright archaic now.
The transfer is excellent, up to the new and improved Warner standards. The detail level is sharp, and the colors are well represented. There are few noticeable print flaws. There's a bit of grain, but it's never excessive. The sound transfer isn't quite as strong, but it preserves the original Dolby Surround. The rear channel is used primarily for score depth, but the dialogue is always clear, which is what really matters for this type of film. There are no extras on the disc.
At times, it is too clear that Other People's Money was adapted from a stage play. It has also aged poorly in some areas, though a couple strong performances and a sharp script save it from the chopping block. The slick script allows it to work as a diverting comedy from an age that has come and gone. Still, a rental to take you down memory lane will probably be enough in this case.
Other People's Money is barely saved by some snappy dialogue delivered by great actors. I don't want to see this film in my courtroom again, though, as I will not be as lenient next time.
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