What Michael Douglas does to the fish at Kathleen Turner’s dinner party in War of the Roses, director Danny DeVito does to the audience. Piddling notions of humor are the least of this misanthropic comedy’s offenses, however. Trying to wring yocks from a deranged couple locked in mortal combat over possession of their house is more suited to film noir than black comedy.
Everything beautiful on screen in this glossily photographed film, from the house to Douglas’ antique sportscar to the couple’s china figurines to the ravishingly leonine Turner herself, is thoroughly trashed by DeVito, whose sicko humor will wind up alienating everyone in the audience.
The aptly intense Douglas is a workaholic Washington, DC, lawyer on the rise in the early years of his marriage to Turner, a saucy former college gymnast who channels her fierce energies into raising two children and remodeling their stately old house. Once her work is completed, she realizes the marriage is a shell, but Douglas refuses to change his ways and causes her to seek a divorce.
In outline, up to this point, the adaptation of the Warren Adler novel follows predictable lines, with Douglas’ rampant sexism challenged by Turner’s burgeoning feminism. What keeps it fresh are the sexually charged performances of the two attractive leads and the sarcastic twists DeVito and scripter Michael Leeson pull from the material.