Throw Momma From The Train Review
Throw Momma From The Train teams Danny De Vito and Billy Crystal, with Oscar nominated Anne Ramsey in this update on Alfred Hitchcock's classic Strangers On A Train. Crystal plays Larry Donner, a creative writing lecturer at the local college, where he meets Owen Lift (Danny De Vito), a student of his. It becomes apparent that both have certain reservations (to say the least) about two women in their lives. Larry still hates his ex-wife for stealing his book and publishing it under her own name, while Owen is losing patience with his over bearing mother. Cunningly, and unsurprisingly, Owen over hears Larry saying he wished his wife was dead, so devises a plan so that they could swap murders. Larry would kill his mother while he killed Larry's ex-wife.
It's unfortunate that Billy Crystal would be giving one of his best performances in When Harry Met Sally, the same year De Vito was shooting his follow-up to this film. However, it comes as no real surprise that Crystal seems to be coasting in Momma because the film falls down at the first hurdle - the script. Writer Stu Silver attempts to update Hitchcock's earlier film by introducing the idea of the characters as writers. Immediately, we are introduced to Larry who is troubled by writers block. All is fine at first, but the idea goes on for too long and eventually you become tired of hearing Larry complaining. This attempt at comedy through repetition doesn't work and neither does the continued banter of 'motive' this and 'motive' that. Because after Larry explains, in great detail, the reasons why you can't get away with murder because there's always a motive linking the killer to the dead body; the film dwells on the idea with both characters badgering on about it between themselves and the extraneous characters around them.
The film works well when concentrating on the three main characters - Larry, Owen and Owen's mother, but the rest of the cast are cardboard cut outs. The cameo roles for Rob Reiner and Oprah Winfrey are perfectly forgivable but the script leaves the audience empty when it comes to Larry's new girlfriend and his ex-wife. Crystal's restrained performance leaves Larry shallow and a little too dry, so it comes as a surprise that a woman would fall for him. His ex-wife is also presented as shallow, as well as deceitful, and very much unlikable. This leads to two flaws: firstly, we can't understand why his new girlfriend cares so much about Larry when he gets into trouble; and secondly, we would rather see Larry's ex-wife dead than alive.
Despite its flaws in the script department, the film just about makes up for it with some very funny laugh out loud moments and Ramsey's brilliant turn as Owen's mother. The laughs come mainly from her, and De Vito as he also excels under his own direction. Whether it's Owen's collection of useless coins or his mother's taunts and commands, the film draws you back in with wonderful humour and a charm that demands you feel good.
It is to De Vito's credit that the performance he gets out of Ramsey up's the film's status from average to good. Also, his restrained camera direction works a lot better than his more experimental approach in his follow-up The War Of The Roses. What also worked well in the film's favour was the obvious homage to Hitchcock, not least the fact Owen goes to the cinema to see Strangers On A Train, but the rear projected road while they travel in Larry's car. It reminded me of images of James Stewart driving around San Francisco playing detective with that glum 'I haven't got a clue' look on his face, or Janet Leigh driving in the rain heading for her last shower!
Unfortunately, the DVD is nothing to write home about. The picture quality is poor with the colours slightly muted, which is distracting at times. The print used doesn't appear to be as clean as it could have been, with specks of dirt visible at times. The good news is that we are presented with the original aspect ratio of the film (1.85:1) which is enhanced for 16:9 televisions. Although the picture is just about good enough, it isn't as good as it could have been.
The sound is presented in Dolby Surround that, even though it isn't DD 5.1 or DTS, works very well here. The surround speakers are used sparingly but when they are they do a simple job reasonably well. I didn't find the sound left the film without depth because even with the new sound tracks available now, they wouldn't be able to improve on this largely dialogue based comedy.
The only extra is the Original Theatrical Trailer, which entices you as it should, but by the end you're left wanting more as you find there are no other goodies on the disc.
The film may have some flaws but it does have a certain charm and some very funny moments that make it a perfectly respectable first film as director for Danny De Vito. However, the DVD is largely poor, but MGM's Movie Time series price (12.99 or less) might help in your decision-making.