There Goes the Neighborhood

Though l992 is not over yet, There Goes the Neighborhood is a top contender for the most outlandishly silly comedy of the year. The combination of a TV-inspired high-concept and inept production values accounts for an unappealing film that has no redeeming qualities. Bill Phillips' lame pic, which is now in limited run in the Phoenix area, will inevitably be rushed to video.

Jeff Daniels stars as Willis Embris, a none-too-bright prison shrink, whose house is burglarized and bombed. Down on his luck, he decides to fulfill the last request of a dying convict (Harris Yulin) to search for a huge amount of money, which had been buried in the basement of a New Jersey home. Unfortunately, two other prisoners overhear the scheme and break out of jail to retain the loot, only they get the address wrong.

Posing as a repairman, Daniels soon shows up at the burb home of Jessie (Catherine O'Hara), an attractive woman in the midst of a nasty divorce; at one point, her wacko angry husband saws the piano in half. Jilted by his own g.f., Daniels finds the perfect soul mate and partner in the acerbic O'Hara.

The action of this curiously unfunny comedy shifts back and forth between Daniels and O'Hara, feverishly digging up her basement, and the escaped criminals who are holding captive their next-door neighbors (Hector Elizondo and Judith Ivey) and are also desperately searching for the treasure.

Denigrating the white-collar professions seems to be high on Paramount's agenda this year. Following the ludicrous portrayal of shrinks in Whispers in the Dark, this pic contains another ridiculous psychologist, a perpetually horny real-estate broker who admits he needs help, a couple of mean authors who are never seen writing, a sociology graduate who puts her Ivy league college to shame, etc.

There Goes the Neighborhood seems to have been created by a filmmaker whose knowledge of life derives from movies. Thus, Dabney Coleman plays Jeffrey, a writer constantly spying on his neighbors (a tribute to Jimmy Stewart's Jeffries in Rear Window); the escapees talk about Turner's colorization of Casablanca and other films; O'Hara explains to the suddenly sappy Daniels that maybe his g.f. deserted him because he called her My Girl.

The premise of the TV-like comedy is borrowed from the Humphrey Bogart vehicle, We're No Angels, in which a trio of genial escapees from Devil's Island descend on a family and take care of their various predicaments. Here too the “philosophical” criminals are depicted as brighter and more sensitive than the burb's yuppies. And like the l955 film, the captors and their hostages soon form a happy, if lunatic, family. Complementing her amorous captor for his “inquisitive mind and appreciation of good food,” Ivey makes a quiche for him, and he reciprocates with a cappuccino.

Writer-director Phillips can't sustain a consistent mood for more than a minute or so. His incoherent pic changes gears almost every scene, unsuccessfully blending conventions from screwball comedy, romantic comedy, TV sit-com, and campy spoof. David Bell's derivative and literal music tries but fails to reconcile the pic's various moods.

Under helmer's misguided direction, a first-rate ensemble of actors, including the cool O'Hara, the charming Daniels, and the usually dependable Coleman and Ivey, all play cartoonish roles and embarrassingly behave like buffoons.

The inexplicable insertion of a sequence from Paramount's exciting actioner, 48 Hours, which the captors and their tied-up hostages watch on TV like one big family, makes Phillips' film look even more preposterous and less enticing than it is.

Credits

A Paramount Pictures release of a King Road production. Produced by Stephen Friedman. Directed, written by Bill Phillips. Camera (Panavision), Walt Lloyd; editor, Sharyn L. Ross; music, David Bell; production design, Dean Tschetter; casting, Mary Jo Slater. Reviewed at a General Cinema theatre, Phoenix, November 4, 1992. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 88 min.
Willis………….Jeff Daniels
Jessie………Catherine O'Hara
Norman……….Hector Elizondo
Peedi………….. Judith Ivey
Jeffrey……….Dabney Coleman
Lydia…………..Rhea Perlman