Energetic actors can’t overcome this uninspired, poverty row production “The Linguini Incident,” being briefly released by its video distributor to theaters to set up ancillary values.
On the shelf for a year, stillborn comedy lacks interesting characters and situations. It’s a lame attempt to recapture some of that “Desperately Seeking Susan” quirkiness that Rosanna Arquette delivered so well seven years ago.
She’s cast as a waitress in a trendy New York restaurant who dreams of launching a magic act. Arquette’s obsessed with Harry Houdini and decides to rob the restaurant to raise the $ 5,000 needed to purchase from antique shop owner Viveca Lindfors a wedding ring once belonging to Mrs. Houdini.
Also out to rob the establishment is its new British bartender, David Bowie, ostensibly to get $ 10,000 so that cashier Marlee Matlin will marry him and he can get a green card. It turns out that Bowie is actually trying to win a million-dollar bet with proprietors Buck Henry and Andre Gregory that he can marry one of their waitresses (or cashiers?–a fine point, but the script doesn’t clarify) within a week.
With the aid of Arquette’s best friend, goofy undergarments designer Eszter Balint, the trio pull off their crime caper, and of course Bowie decides to marry Arquette. Unconvincing complications lead to a further bet that requires Arquette to perform a Houdini-esque escape trick underwater at film’s climax.
Garbed in retro costumes leaning toward the Roaring ’20s, Arquette is attractive and perky in a performance that consistently transcends the rest of the film.
Bowie, who has been desperately seeking screen stardom for nearly 25 years, is completely miscast. He looks too old and more like a toothy alien (a la his best assignment to date, “The Man Who Fell to Earth”) than a romantic lead. There’s no sexual attraction at all between him and Arquette despite the script’s requirements of same.
Balint and Matlin are amusing, but the film’s main laughs go to Gregory in a barnstorming performance as the flamboyant boss you love to hate.
Two cast casualties should be noted: Kelly Lynch was announced as co-star during pre-production in the role that went to Balint, while Shelley Winters was listed in the Daily Variety production chart when the film was shooting; presumably, Lindfors inherited her assignment. In the final print are pointless cameos by Julian Lennon (understandably yawning) and Iman. A thank-you credit to actor Julian Sands is cryptic (he doesn’t show up), though he could have handled Bowie’s role with ease.
Production looks threadbare whenever it strays from the gaudy main restaurant set to seedy downtown locations. Director Richard Shepard, who previously co-directed the unsuccessful Woody Harrelson film “Cool Blue,” fails to provide adequate transitions between scenes and has an aloof camera style that works against the comedy.