Buddy Buddy

1981, Movie, R, 96 mins

Review

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BUDDY BUDDY, Billy Wilder's last movie to date, is a slight, but amusing, black farce with Jack Lemmon as a suicidal klutz who complicates the life of a grumpy mob hitman played by Walter Matthau.

Professional killer Trabucco (Walter Matthau) eliminates two witnesses to a land fraud scandal and plans to kill the third, mobster Rudy "Disco" Gambola (Fil Formicola) who's under police protection and is set to testify in court. En route to a hotel across from the courthouse, Trabucco runs into the depressed Victor Clooney (Jack Lemmon), who tells Trabucco that his wife has left him for the head of a sex clinic. Trabucco arrives at the hotel and sets up his rifle, but he's interrupted by Victor, who's checked into the room next store and tries to hang himself. Trabucco binds and gags Victor so that he won't disturb the shooting, but Victor escapes and climbs outside onto the window ledge. To get him back in, Trabucco agrees to drive him to see his wife, and he stops on the way and is about to shoot Victor when some cops drive by.

Victor finally gets to see his wife, Celia (Paula Prentiss), at the sex clinic, but she tells him that she's in love with Dr. Zuckerbrot (Klaus Kinski), and that she's filing for divorce. Victor goes back to the hotel, and Celia and Zuckerbrot follow him to try to prevent killing himself again, but Zuckerbrot mistakes Trabucco for Victor and injects him with a sedative. Unable to see straight, Trabucco tells Victor about the hit on Rudy, and Victor agrees to help him shoot. Before Rudy goes into the courthouse, he switches clothes with a cop, but Victor's aim is so bad that when he shoots at the cop who's wearing Rudy's suit, he inadvertently hits the real Rudy, who's in the police uniform. Trabucco and Victor escape down a laundry chute and then separate. Months later, Trabucco is luxuriating on a South Seas island, when Victor shows up, telling him that he's been searching for him for months and can't go back to the States because he blew up Zuckerbrot's sex clinic after Celia ran away with the receptionist.

That BUDDY BUDDY is not a typical Billy Wilder project is revealed by the fact that it is only his third film since 1948 for which he did not receive a producing credit (even Walter Matthau's son is listed as an associate producer!). In fact, Wilder and his writing partner I.A.L. Diamond were brought on by Jack Lemmon after MGM/UA had bought the remake rights to L'EMMERDEUR (Aka: A PAIN IN THE A...) (1973), hoping to strike box-office gold as they had done by importing LA CAGE AUX FOLLES (1978), which was written and directed by the same two men (Francis Veber and Edouard Molinaro). Wilder was simply a director for hire, but he and Diamond managed to inject some of their distinctive style into the script, peppering it with pop-culture references (the Betamax, disco music), clever euphemisms, as when Trabucco discusses killing Rudy in dental terms (extracting a tooth, a root canal job, etc.), and references to other movies. (Victor screams "Apocalypse now!" as he's about to set fire to himself; and Zuckerbrot says "Premature ejaculation means always having to say you're sorry.") Wilder's penchant for comical masquerade and disguise is also evident, as Trabucco poses as a mailman, a milkman, and even a priest (hilariously slapping a magnetic Jesus on the dash of his car, and forced to give Rudy his last rites at the request of the police) in order to pull off his executions.

There are also some mildly satirical swipes at television, since Victor is a sexually-repressed censor at CBS, (making sure there are no nipples in primetime), and Celia was a researcher for "60 Minutes" who went to the sex clinic to expose it, but ended up staying there. The scenes at the clinic are silly, but there's something irresistibly funny about the straight-faced Klaus Kinski in long blond hair and tinted glasses, exercising and spouting sexual psycho-babble. As always, Matthau--the ultimate deadpan misanthrope--and Lemmon--the quintessential depressed, neurotic cuckold--are perfect together, but they play their roles straight (unlike in the later jokey, crowd-pleasing GRUMPY OLD MEN series), which perhaps accounts for the mostly negative reactions the film received. Admittedly, it's a minor film that's probably the least interesting in Wilder's career, and suffers from a dated sensibility and some atrociously bad rear-projection work, but it was merely a commercial chore for the great Wilder, who was 75 years old when he made it and was undoubtedly happy just to still be working in an industry that had been taken over by "hippies with long hair and beards," as William Holden lamented in FEDORA (1978). (Profanity, nudity, violence.) leave a comment

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