Drowning Mona

2000, Movie, PG-13, 91 mins


Is there anything so painful as a comedy whose every gag falls flat and then lies there, flopping like a dying flounder? The cast of this broad, mean-spirited farce gamely don hideous wigs, monstrous clothes and tool around in boxy little Yugos with vanity license plates, apparently hoping to run into a joke. Sadly, they never do. Mona Dearly (Bette Midler) is the meanest woman in boring little Verplanck, NY; her own family lives in terror of her sputtering rages. No one's sorry when she drowns after going off the road in her son Jeff's (Marcus Thomas) car; no one's surprised to learn that the brake lines were cut, and no one's especially anxious to find out who was responsible. Of course, that might be because just about everyone in town had a reason to do Mona in, including her battered husband (William Fichtner), his hard-bitten girlfriend (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Jeff's sad-sack business partner Bobby Calzone (Casey Affleck). Show tune-loving Chief Rash (Danny DeVito) must sort through this small army of suspects while helping his daughter Ellen (Neve Campbell) prepare for her wedding to Bobby. Since everyone involved seems to have proceeded from the smug assumption that low-class, small-town types are inherently funny — from the roots of their ghastly hair to the heels of their tasteless shoes — no one seems to have felt compelled to develop the film's plot beyond the pitch, "a white-trash MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS." Scenes play like sketches ("the smutty undertaker," "the folk-singing lesbian auto mechanic," "What really happened to Jeff's hand?"), characters are defined by their accessories and atmosphere is established through tacky songs of the '70s. The film fairly oozes condescending self-satisfaction, which might be less annoying if it were even remotely funny. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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