NEW YORK–Jack Nicholson fans should feel cheated by “Man Trouble,” an insultingly trivial star vehicle. After some initial business attracted by his name on the marquee, film is fated for pay-cable use.
Pic reunites Nicholson with the creative team of director Bob Rafelson and scripter Carole Eastman, who in 1970 propelled him to stardom with “Five Easy Pieces.”
This belated followup is strike two for Italian-funded Penta Pictures, after its recent Tom Selleck flop “Folks!”
In a role that’s way too comfortable for him, Nicholson portrays a dog trainer who meets opera singer Ellen Barkin who needs a guard dog after a break-in and other harassment. Film appears initially promising, with Nicholson and Barkin speaking in German to the German Shepherd called Duke.
In a screenplay resembling stage farce rather than a movie, Eastman drags in several pointless subplots.
Main one concerns Barkin’s sister Beverly D’Angelo, who’s penned a tell-all book about her relationship with reclusive billionaire Harry Dean Stanton. Barkin is getting divorced from her conductor/husband David Clennon and has been threatened by some homicidal thug who may be the notorious local slasher.
None of this adds up to entertainment or even momentarily involving escapism, as the romantic comedy/thriller genre typified by “Charade” or “Foul Play” seems beyond the filmmakers’ combined grasp. Instead there’s strenously overacted comic setpieces, most of which fail.
Nicholson’s patented ne’er-do-well persona seems on automatic pilot, though Lauren Tom as his Japanese wife is amusing in her pidgin-English Bickersons routine with him in front of a marriage counselor. Barkin is saddled with completely unnatural dialogue as well as some overdone physical shtick that seems left over from her last comedy, “Switch.”
D’Angelo steals a couple of scenes as Barkin’s sister, enough to inidicate the film would have improved considerably if she and Barkin had swapped roles. As it is, the Nicholson-Barkin chemistry never percolates.
A talented supporting cast is wasted, including director Paul Mazursky in a nothing role. Film buffs should look for Mary-Robin Redd as a nurse; this co-star of 26 years ago in Sidney Lumet’s “The Group” hasn’t been on the big screen of late.
Tech credits, from Stephen H. Burum’s lensing to the late Georges Delerue’s minor musical score, are slick. Final insult is the arbitrary overlay of the end credits smack dab in the middle of the final scene for no apparent reason other than to chase what’s left of the audience.