Review: ‘Two Much’

Antonio Banderas amply proves himself as a romantic lead, injecting charm, energy and comedic skill into uneven material in "Two Much," an English-language feature from Spanish helmer Fernando Trueba, whose "Belle Epoque" won the foreign-language film Oscar in 1994.

Antonio Banderas amply proves himself as a romantic lead, injecting charm, energy and comedic skill into uneven material in “Two Much,” an English-language feature from Spanish helmer Fernando Trueba, whose “Belle Epoque” won the foreign-language film Oscar in 1994. Although the star-powered vehicle’s comic engine is slow to kick into gear, pic should keep not-too-demanding audiences grinning throughout its somewhat lengthy running time.

The film provides Banderas with perhaps the best mainstream showcase yet for his Latin-lover charisma, and the smoldering Spaniard should ensure that Touchstone garners initially decent returns in the U.S., especially with female auds. But this kind of rather broad farce generally plays best in non-English-language markets.

The off-camera romance between Banderas and co-star Melanie Griffith earned the couple royalty status in the Spanish gossip press, steering “Two Much” to become the country’s highest-grossing national production ever, with B.O. nudging the $ 10 million mark. Pre-sold to quality distribs worldwide, the film has had its first international outing in Italy, opening Valentine’s Day to sprightly biz.

Banderas plays Art Dodge, a failed painter and now the brash owner of an unprofitable modern-art gallery in Miami. He augments business by perusing the obituaries and then delivering paintings that he claims were ordered by the deceased prior to departure. But the scam fails to fool shady businessman Gene Paletto (Danny Aiello). Threatened by the man’s thugs during Paletto senior’s funeral, Art escapes by hiding in the convertible of Paletto’s impulsive ex-wife , Betty (Griffith).

Closer acquaintance between the sheets follows, and Betty immediately hears wedding bells; before Art can object, the invitations are in the mail. Matters are complicated when he meets and is attracted to Betty’s more level-headed sis, Liz (Daryl Hannah). She is hostile, however, having mistakenly pegged him for a fortune-hunting gigolo.

To assist in his courtship of Liz, Art invents a brother, Bart, who also proves handy in escaping Paletto and his henchmen. Playing up the long-lost twin’s sensitive, soulful side, Art unleashes bohemian Bart the tormented artist on Betty’s sister, who is instantly captivated. Enlisting help from his memory-challenged father (Eli Wallach) and his wise-cracking, underpaid secretary (Joan Cusack), Art attempts to extricate himself from the arrangement with one sister in order to pursue the other.

Hopping between beds in an effort to keep the ruse under wraps, or attending his own wedding(s) in both guises, Banderas reveals himself to be remarkably adept at physical comedy, giving the slapstick antics considerably more vigor than they might otherwise have mustered. Trueba also handles a hilarious car chase led by Art’s father and his aged poker cronies with agreeable verve. But too many of the film’s dialogue-driven stretches, which aim for a more sophisticated brand of romantic comedy, fail to maintain the same buoyancy.

The opening reels prior to Bart’s arrival present the greatest problems, impaired by frustratingly lax timing both in front of and behind the camera. The script’s groundwork for the double romance is on the sketchy side, with scant sparks ignited between Betty and Art, and equally fleeting foundations laid for his feelings for Liz.

One of the weak links is Griffith, whose character is established in only the flimsiest terms. Part screwy blond bimbo, part marriage-crazy man-eater, and part reckless, irresponsible rich girl, Betty ultimately is too much of too many things, and none of them concrete. Hannah’s character has a little more edge; consequently, her scenes function better.

Supporting cast is generally congenial. Aiello makes an affable big lug, still hopelessly besotted with Betty, and Wallach gets laughs as the spry old womanizer. Cusack has played better-written variations on this role before with sharper results.

Budgeted at around $ 13 million, the production is polished, though a little sluggish in the editing department. The choice to shoot in widescreen seems curious given the somewhat intimate dimensions of this type of comedy, and while Jose Luis Alcaine’s lensing brings a crisp sheen to the sunny Miami exteriors and the sisters’ swanky mansion, the camera is too lazy to make adequate use of the canvas. Extra juice is added by Michel Camilo’s spirited music.

Two Much

U.S.-Spanish

Production

A Touchstone Pictures (U.S.)/Sogepaq Distribucion (Spain) release of an Andres Vicente Gomez presentation in association with Interscope Communications and Polygram Filmed Entertainment of an Andres Vicente Gomez production in association with Sogetel, Lola Films, Fernando Trueba P.C. (International sales: Sogepaq Intl., Madrid.) Produced by Cristina Huete. Executive producers, Ted Field, Adam Leipzig, Robert W. Cort. Directed by Fernando Trueba. Screenplay, Fernando Trueba, David Trueba based on the novel by Donald Westlake.

Crew

Camera (color, Panavision widescreen), Jose Luis Alcaine; editor, Nena Bernard; music, Michel Camilo; production design , Juan Botella; costume design, Lala Huete; sound (Dolby), Pierre Gamet; associate producers, Fernando Garcillan, Paul Diamond, Volkert Struycken; assistant director, Javier Chinchilla; casting, Johanna Ray, Elaine J. Huzzar. Reviewed at Alcazar Cinema, Rome, Feb. 19, 1996. Running time: 115 min.

With

Betty Kerner - Melanie Griffith Art/Bart Dodge - Antonio Banderas Liz Kerner - Daryl Hannah Gene Paletto - Danny Aiello Gloria - Joan Cusack Sheldon - Eli Wallach
With: Gabino Diego, Austin Pendleton, Alan Rich, Phil Leeds, Vincent Schiavelli, Syd Raymond, Louis Seeger. (English dialogue)
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