Greed is good and fitfully funny in John Landis’ filigree, “Susan’s Plan.” This yarn of a woman out to murder her ex-husband and collect on his insurance policy is largely nonsensical, but Landis keeps the action antic, which is almost enough to sweep pic’s myriad shortcomings under the carpet. Independently made lightweight suspenser is a niche theatrical outing with modest B.O. potential but a longer sales life in cable rotation and as a subsequent video rental.
Story hits the ground running with Susan (Nastassja Kinski) and current squeeze Sam (Billy Zane), an insurance salesman, plotting the demise of her reprehensible former husband, Paul (Adrian Paul). Sam recruits Bill (Michael Biehn) and Steve (Rob Schneider), marginals who owe him a favor, to do the job, while Susan enlists her hairdresser, Betty (Lara Flynn Boyle), to lure the victim to a fateful appointment. When Paul arrives for an early morning assignation, the low-rent gunmen jump out in stocking caps and plug him three times at pointblank range.
But this is supposed to be a comedy, so, naturally, the bullets miss every vital organ. Plan B is to have lunkheaded biker — and sometime beau of Betty — Bob (Dan Aykroyd) sneak into intensive care and smother the recuperating Paul with a pillow. Meanwhile, Betty is to keep the attending physician occupied by every means possible. And just to complicate matters, Sam’s former spouse and company boss, Penny (Lisa Edelstein), gets wind of the scheme and demands sexual favors and a slice of the action.
Mixing murder and comedy requires considerable sleight of hand, such as that demonstrated in the 1938 Warners Edward G. Robinson starrer “A Slight Case of Murder” and the Ealing classic “Kind Hearts and Coronets.” In the case of “Susan’s Plan,” the problem lies in the script, which simply doesn’t hold water. The biggest gulp to swallow is why, three years after divorce, Paul increases his insurance premium and leaves Susan as beneficiary.
Landis attempts to drive through plot holes and character inconsistencies with a series of dream-sequence gags that only compounds the level of confusion. Writer-director appears to be grasping for some painful truth about love and money cloaked in humor, but misses his mark.
He is, however, an accomplished technician, and scene by scene, “Susan’s Plan” is highly watchable. Helmer brings his characteristic bouncy energy to the story, as well as a graceful, fluid camera style that enlivens familiar Hollywood locations.
Landis also has a game, charismatic cast, with Biehn one of the highlights, playing against type as a thick, unkempt con. Boyle is also a standout among the principals as a seeming dolt who turns out to be the most savvy of the motley crew. The delightful supporting players include the lusty Edelstein, Bill Duke as a bedraggled bloodhound and Landis signature director cameos, here from Stuart Gordon, Randall Kleiser and Adam Rifkin.