Give Danny DeVito the right story and he clicks. He does it here.
What do a tornado, a hurricane, and an ex-wife have in common? They all get the house. Except when the husband's lawyer manages to dig up some rule that allows the husband to stay in the house as long as he and his wife lead separate lives.
The husband is Douglas, the wife is Turner, and the lawyer and mediator is DeVito. There's also a housekeeper and two not especially lovable children (thank heavens for small favors) but they're probably less important than the husband's dog and the wife's cat.
So how do two rich yuppies lead separate lives in their mansion? Simple. First they ignore and curse each other while passing on the stairs. "Filthy slut," mutters Douglas. "Bastard," murmurs Turner. Finally Douglas proudly shows DeVito a plan that he has worked out with Turner. It is a blueprint of the house, divided into red, green, and yellow sections. Douglas explains that the red sections belong to him, the green sections are hers, and the yellow rooms are neutral. "I had a little trouble with the kitchen," he says, "but we worked out alternative hours." DeVito is aghast.
"This seems -- RATIONAL to you?" Douglas: "I'm gonna win this." DeVito: "Oliver, nobody WINS anything here. There are only degrees of losing." And Douglas leans forward conspiratorially, grins insanely, and whispers: "I got MORE SQUARE FOOTAGE."
It's Douglas's best performance, I think. He's not a simple outraged bourgeois, as in "Fatal Attraction" or "Basic Flaw" or whatever it was. And his character has more dimensions than his Gordon Gekko, and almost as good a name. The couple eat at opposite ends of a long empty table, like Charles Foster Kane and Emily. Douglas is waiting for an important phone call and is a bit anxious. He pays no attention to his wife sitting motionless and silently, staring at him. He stabs at the food on his plate and slices it viciously. And watch the half-demonic expressions that play across his face as he attacks and eats his food. The scene is an almost perfect embodiment of black comedy because, in context, it is outrageously funny -- but it could have been yanked straight out of a horror movie without changing a thing.
It's a fine script and DeVito does well by it. I guess it gets a little tiresome by the time they're chasing one another around the darkened half-ruined mansion, nailing boards over windows and unloosening nuts, and throwing plates. And when in the midst of their hatred, Turner serves the pleasantly surprised Douglas her superlative pate and then claims it was made of Benny's liver, I could have done without the quick shot of the living Benny in the bushes outside. But those are relatively small acnestes bracketed in a very funny movie.
There is a crazy logic to the story too. The couple begin by loving one another but are then separated by, well, THINGS. Douglas works very hard to make enough money so that his wife can find and furnish a perfect home for him. A little tritely, Turner discovers that she has grown not only to dislike the distracted Douglas but to hate him, so she wants her independence. Initially, the little frictions are minor. With a table full of dinner guests that Douglas is trying to impress, he asks Turner to explain how they happened to acquire the Baccarat wine glasses they're using. Nervously, she begins with a trip to Paris but so many dependent clauses intrude themselves that her narrative begins to resemble a 19th-century German sentence. So Douglas cuts her off: "To make a long story short.....", and wraps it up in two declaratives. (I can't emphasize too strongly how deftly DeVito handles this scene. Absolutely none of the irritation is spelled out except by the actors and the camera and editing, and yet we are left with a full understanding of the little disaster that's just taken place and the empty anger that follows.) The gathering enmity shows up in tiny ways. "I just wanted to push you," Douglas says to his wife's back, trying to explain some rudeness. "After all, everybody needs a little PUSH once in a while." (He picks up her cat and flings it aside.) And after his big dinner with his superiors, the couple are in bed and Douglas worries a little. "I hope they didn't notice what a jerk I was." Turner: "They never seem to." Douglas is so smug that the barb sails completely over his head. It's like Neal Simon, if Simon had become delicate.
The humor, if that's what it is, grows more physical and in some ways less funny. Douglas, drunk, urinates on some fish while Turner is giving HER big dinner for potential customers. In turn, while the assembled guests watch open-mouthed from the doorway, she revs up her two-million horsepower SUV with the big knobby tires and the 20 mm cannon on top and noisily smashes into his tiny classic Morgan convertible. Then she backs up and drives completely over it with Douglas inside. Douglas emerges shakily from the compressed car and says, sounding perfectly reasonable, "Look, I don't want to create a scene. I mean, I live in this neighborhood too."
See this movie if you have a chance. I would recommend it even if it weren't so good, simply on the basis of the last scene between the Roses. They have fallen 30 feet on a chandelier and lie dying next to one another. With his last bit of energy, Douglas manages to move his hand lovingly on her shoulder. And just before she dies, without being able to look at what she's doing, Turner reaches slowly out, puts her hand over his, and flips it away.