As Good As It Gets

You have to admire the sheer audacity of a comedy that opens with a man heaving a little dog down a garbage chute. Dogs, after all -- especially ugly-cute ones that look like they should be auditioning for Gremlins 3 -- are the sacred cows of contemporary Hollywood. That said, Verdell the ankle-biter recovers and proves to be the downfall of his tormentor,...read more

Reviewed by Sandra Contreras
Rating:

You have to admire the sheer audacity of a comedy that opens with a man heaving a little dog down a garbage chute. Dogs, after all -- especially ugly-cute ones that look like they should be auditioning for Gremlins 3 -- are the sacred cows of

contemporary Hollywood. That said, Verdell the ankle-biter recovers and proves to be the downfall of his tormentor, Melvin the monster. Melvin (Jack Nicholson) is a cranky, clinically obsessive-compulsive romance writer who lobs atomic bomb-quality put-downs at all who cross his path, including

neighbor Simon (Greg Kinnear), who provides plenty of ammo by being gay, an artist and Verdell's indulgent owner. Melvin is simply repugnant, a hideous and self-centered caricature of a human being, and Nicholson's performance is fearlessly repellent. Melvin's rituals include a daily trip

to the restaurant where he's served by Carol (Helen Hunt), the only waitress who can stomach his endless abuse. Carol, of course, has her own troubles: She's the single mother of gravely ill Spence (Jesse James). Verdell's vengeance starts when Simon is brutally assaulted by a

hustler-turned-model (Skeet Ulrich) and his droogies: Simon's art dealer (Cuba Gooding Jr.) bullies Melvin into tending Verdell while Simon is hospitalized, and to his own amazement, Melvin falls for the scruffy pup. When Simon reclaims Verdell, Melvin shifts his newfound beneficence to Carol,

getting Spence to a fancy doctor. While the initial surprise of Nicholson's devastating cruelty gives the impression that anything can happen, the picture settles into an all-too-predictable (and unconvincing) end. "As good as it gets" is an overstatement. The movie's too long, and the direction

is sometimes slack -- but the script is crammed with withering ripostes, ably delivered by Nicholson and Hunt.

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