Sunday, March 13, 2016
Director Report Card: Ivan Reitman (1988)
In 1988, two creative forces had reached the peak of their power. Ivan Reitman was still running high on the success of “Ghostbusters,” now established as one of the leading comedic directors in Hollywood. Meanwhile, Arnold Schwarzenegger had never been more popular. Action hits like “The Terminator” and “Commando” had launched him to the front of movie super-stardom. In a few years, he’d be the highest paid, highest grossing actor in the world. Before that, Arnold made the decision to stretch his - some would say “limited” - abilities in a new direction. These days it’s normal for an action star to try his hand at comedy. That’s because Arnold did it first. “Twins” would become a big success and prove the Austrian Oak was more then just a pair of biceps. Furthermore, it would provide Reitman with another hit, showing his continued ability to create likable, money-making comedies.
Julius Benedict has lived his whole life on an island. The result of a genetic experiment to create a perfect human being, Julius is tall, buff, and brilliant. His schooling and training has left him a super genius and an incredible athlete. However, he’s curious about the outside world. When he discovers he has a twin brother, a result of the same experiment, he leaves the island and heads to America, in search of him. When they meet, the short, tubby Vincent is not only the physical opposite of Julius but his less then stellar morals stand in contrasts to Julius’ up-right behavior. However, the two form a shaky friendship. Soon, with Vincent’s girlfriend and her sister in tow, the two head out on a road trip. Vincent is only interested in delivering a car to a mysterious millionaire, the latest ploy to make himself rich. Julius, on the other hand, is in search of the brothers’ origins. Along the way, they learn a lot from each other.
Maybe the reason “Twins” was successful, aside from being a pretty likable flick, might be due to its brilliant poster. The central joke is right there. “Schwarzenegger. DeVito. Twins.” The brilliant simplicity of that is obvious. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito do not look like twin brothers. The movie certainly plays that simple visual joke to its fullest. The film goes out of its way to contrast the two performers. Arnold is as pumped as he’s ever been on screen, showing off his huge, toned muscles on several occasions. DeVito, obviously, is shorter, tubbier, and hairier. The movie emphasizes his baldness with a cheesy ponytail. Moreover, the two have opposing personalities. Julius is naïve, sweet, and sort of nerdy. Vincent, meanwhile, is a bit of a sleazeball, sleeping with married women, making his money by stealing cars and with a shady loan company.
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s acting abilities have frequently been criticized. In my opinion, unfairly. In “Twins,” Arnold shows that he’s actually a capable performer. That the action star would want to try his hand at comedy is not surprising. Schwarzenegger has always brought a lot of humor to his action roles, slinging cheesy one-liners and making them genuinely hilarious. With the part of Julius, Arnold gets to really stretch his abilities. Julius is sort of a dorky goofball. He’s adapting to the outside world for the first time. He sings along to pop music for the first time, at inappropriate volumes. He stumbles into confrontation with pick-pockets, hilariously overturning their plan. He dances, climbs walls, and more, always with a big, goofy smile on his face. It’s one of Arnold’s most appealing performances, the guy appearing more likable then ever on-screen.
Danny DeVito is equally inspired as the less toned brother. It’s a very typical part for DeVito. He’s more then a bit greasy, attempting to con every one around him for one reason or another. He always owes someone money and is always attempting to talk some other fool out of their money. However, as the film goes on, Vincent reveals a more sensitive side. We discover that all of his scheming and back-biting is a defense mechanism. He’s actually a very sad, wounded person. He also genuinely cares for his girlfriend, proving he’s not a total scumbag. DeVito is in fine form, getting to play both sides of the spectrum nicely.
Are ethics genetic? The movie, at first, seems to assure us that they are. Julius, the “perfect” brother, is as morally up-right as possible. Vincent, meanwhile, steals cars for a living, sleeps with a married woman, and seduced a nun when he was only a teenager. Everyone expects him to be in jail, which is indeed where Julius finds him. However, as the story develops, we begin to question this assumption. The film comes down on the side of environment over genetics influencing a child’s personality. Julius was raised in a supportive, nurturing environment. Vincent was left in an orphanage and kicked out at a young age. By the end, the two rubbing off on each other, Vincent is revealed to have a heart and be as nice as his brother.
Like any big comedy of the time, “Twins” also has a romantic subplot. Accompany the twins on their adventure is Vincent’s girlfriend Linda and her sister Marnie. Naturally, Marnie quickly falls for Julius. Vincent quickly identifies Julius as a virgin due to his idealized concept of women, a moment hilarious in light of Arnold’s real-life behavior. This makes the relationship between Julius and Marnie delightfully awkward at times. The moment when they finally consummate their relationship is full of gentle, amusing laughs. And it doesn’t hurt that Kelly Preston, as Marnie, is probably the sexiest she’s ever been on-screen, especially when wearing a tiny, slinky nightgown. Preston’s chemistry with Arnold is believable. Amusingly, the movie casts DeVito as an equal romantic lead, who has an emotionally revealing scene with Linda, played by a capable, likable Chloe Webb.
The entire second half of “Twins” is devoted to the brothers’ journey across the country. The film doesn’t focus too much on the great American countryside or anything like that. However, it is a road trip picture of a sort. There’s lot of footage of the characters driving around. On their trip, they stop by a gas station, where Julius buys his first T-shirt, an especially silly moment. A winning moment has the brothers dancing in a honky-tonk bar, which ends in a nicely goofy fight scene. Probably the best moment is when the two finally meet up with their mother. The audience immediately realizes that Bonnie Barlett’s character is actually the twins’ mom but the eventual pay-off to that meeting is worth it.
Aside from its lead actors, “Twins” features some strong performances by the supporting players. Bonnie Bartlett overcomes the silly plot mechanism of her character arc, providing some genuinely sweet moments. Notable character actors David Caruso and Tony Jay, putting those fantastic pipes of his to good use, have small parts despite their unusually high billing. And watch out for cameos from the likes of Sven-Ole Thorsen, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, and Heather Graham.
“Twins’ is also an unmistakable product of the late eighties. The characters frequently dress in neon pastels. Such as Arnold’s mint shorts or the matching salmon suits DeVito and Schwarzenegger wear in one moment. The movie is also sprinkled with references to the then-and-now, such as a cameo appearance from Sylvester Stallone’s biceps, that leaves Arnold unimpressed. The score by Randy Edelman and Georges Delerue, with its pseudo-electronic, quasi-steel drum chirping, is immediately recognizable as a product of its time. Atop the campy-ass score is a campy-ass end credits song provided by Little Richard and Philip Bailey, which is as ridiculous as you’d expect. In general, “Twins” is the sort of light weight, gimmicky but still surprisingly earnest comedy that just doesn’t get made anymore.
which would co-star Eddie Murphy as a newly discovered third brother. I don’t know if “Triplets” is a thing the world needs but “Twins” stands on its own as a perfectly serviceable, entertaining bit of eighties comedy. [Grade: B]