On behalf of all children of the '80s, Appellate Judge Amanda DeWees apologizes for this unfortunate John Travolta-Olivia Newton-John flick.
Our review of Bad Girls Of Film Noir: Volume 1, published February 9th, 2010, is also available.
"God, this has been a strange week."—Zack (John Travolta)
Two of a Kind, a belated attempt to follow up on the successful pairing of John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John five years before in Grease, is a very educational movie. It taught me about heaven, a place characterized by clouds, misty pillars, and bad lighting effects, and about angels, who play golf and cuss when they lose their golf balls amid all the clouds; wouldn't one think that after spending eternity doing this, they would learn to paint the balls red? It also taught me about God, who is cranky and quotes Shakespeare a lot, and who has been on vacation since 1960, which explains why He allowed this movie to be made.
Most of all, though, Two of a Kind taught me to be ashamed of the decade that shaped me, the '80s. And for that I can never forgive it. I've accepted that no one under the age of thirty understands the allure of parachute pants and strategically ripped sweatshirts. I've stopped mourning the loss of my tail, that trendy little lock of hair that adorned the nape of my neck. I've even stopped playing Kajagoogoo's "Too Shy," although I still sing along when it comes on the radio during retro programs. But I never felt really, deeply embarrassed by the '80s until I watched Two of a Kind, which shrieks 1983 from the blow-dried coiffures of its stars to the pseudo-New Wave sunglasses John Travolta's character invents. (They're edible, too, which just goes to show why this guy hasn't made a success of an inventing career. How often do you walk indoors on a sunny day and think, Well, now that I'm out of the sun, I'm feeling a mite peckish. If only I could nibble on some handy, plastic-like substance!)
Travolta plays a fellow named Zack, and although his apartment is filled with inventions he has purportedly created, his appearance suggests that he actually spends all his time doing bicep curls and applying mousse to his hair; maybe he just bought all of his inventions at The Sharper Image, which would explain why he's in debt to the tune of $13,000 to a loan shark. Desperate to avoid having his ears sliced off, which is the penalty for defaulting on his loan, he dons an ash-blond wig and a John Oates mustache and sets out to rob a bank. The teller he approaches is Debbie, played by Olivia Newton-John, who giggles when his moustache starts to come off; this tells us that even while being held at gunpoint Debbie's a girl who has trouble focusing. She does have the presence of mind to pull a switcheroo and send Zack away with a bag full of paper while walking off with the actual loot herself, however, so Zack tracks her down to wrest the money from her, and love blooms, or so we are meant to believe. There's a moment during the Love Montage—the sequence in which the two clown around New York, laughing, doing magic tricks for each other, and generally trying our patience—when Travolta drops character and darts a hunted look around him, as if wondering how much longer this must go on. Zack and Debbie's relationship is less one of shared passion than one of mutual recognition of fine hair styling. We see them engage in foreplay a few times, and we can tell these two are simpatico because neither makes the mistake of touching the other's hair. It's a match made in heaven.
At least, it's a match that is closely observed by heaven, since God has threatened to obliterate mankind and start from scratch unless Zack and Debbie act unselfishly to save each other. (God is voiced by Gene Hackman, whose delivery suggests that the deity spent a lot of his vacation smoking cheap cigars.) The angels—Scatman Crothers, Charles Durning, Beatrice Straight, and Castulo Guerra—have talked the boss into giving humankind this last chance, and they keep popping up to spy on the lovers and give them a helping hand, or at least a buggy ride around Central Park. I'm no theology expert, but I found it confusing that the angels would be so dead set on stopping God's renovation plan. Mr. Hackman indicated that when he cleaned house he'd bring everyone up to heaven, and isn't that where the angels would want people to end up anyway? But then, the thought processes of divinities who would spend eternity playing golf are a closed book to me. Enter the devil, working under the alias of Mr. Beasley, a dapper, color-coordinated Oliver Reed, who sports a Hercule Poirot moustache. (Any graduate students in film studies out there who are casting about for a dissertation topic might want to work up a prospectus about the significance of hair care in Two of a Kind. The facial hair, the highlights, the feathering—I'm telling you, there's material there to be mined.) The devil doesn't seem to understand the divine plan any better than I do, since he does an about-face later on in the movie, as if it took half an hour for what Charles Durning told him to sink in. Meanwhile, though, he's started a pie fight at the Plaza restaurant, so at least his time was well spent.
Throughout the merry hijinks, as the angels played Stop, Rewind, and Fast-Forward with the action as if trying to figure out how to program that brand-new invention the VCR, I amused myself by playing what-if. Two of a Kind seems like an attempt to revisit whimsical '40s fantasies like Here Comes Mr. Jordan and Heaven Can Wait (Lubitsch version), so I tried to decide how it should have been cast if filmed in its proper era. Monty Woolley would have been excellent as the crabby deity, and Claude Rains, or possibly Laird Cregar, could have provided the mellifluous-toned devil. Since I think Zack is supposed to be a charming reprobate, Robert Montgomery would have been a sound choice, and for the basically good-hearted but goofy Debbie I would go with Carole Lombard—unless we still wanted to have our star actress sing on the soundtrack, as Newton-John does, in which case I might bring in Betty Hutton. And since one of the angels is a dog fancier, we'd have to have a cameo by Rin Tin Tin. Perhaps he could rescue Debbie from the masked gunman who pops up toward the end of the film. Better yet, perhaps he could have rescued Travolta, Newton-John, and Hackman from this movie.
If there are any of you out there who still actually desire to see this on DVD, you can expect a reasonably decent video transfer, with some occasional grain, and an uneven audio mix that delivers the tinkly '80s synthesized score with breathtaking (or stomach-churning) clarity but muddies some of the dialogue to the point that you will need to resort to the subtitles. You will be pleased to hear that this flipper disc contains both pan-and-scan and widescreen versions of this epic, so you can soak in close-ups of Newton-John's lip gloss in the former version and revel in the full vista of the pie fight in widescreen. Completists will be delighted to know that the theatrical teaser trailer is included; although the level of grain and dirt makes it almost unwatchable, it's the whirly-pic technique that really makes this extra migraine-inducing. But at the low, low suggested price of $9.99, how can you resist sending some royalties Newton-John's way? After all, she did give us that rockin' cover of "Gimme Some Lovin,'" and her efforts ensured that hoop earrings endured past the 1970s. I think it's time we gave the woman her due.
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