Even his most fervent fans would have to concede that superstar Jack Nicholson will not go down in history as one of the great screen comedians. The dispiriting misfire MAN TROUBLE proves why.
Harry Bliss (Nicholson) is the owner of the "House of Bliss," a purveyor of attack dogs for personal protection. Harry's office is overrun with puppies, however, leaving him only one adult dog, Duke, with which to conduct business--which is no problem, since Harry has no clients. In fact, Harry
has sold Duke to his ex-partner, Lee MacGreevy (Paul Mazursky), who is trying to track Harry down to take delivery. Now, though, Harry is avoiding MacGreevy because a call from distraught opera singer, Joan Spruance (Ellen Barkin) has brought him a new account--not to mention the chance of a new
romantic conquest. Romantic conquests are actually Harry's true specialty--something that has put his marriage to Adele (Lauren Tom), a Japanese-American whom Harry refers to as "Iwo Jima," on the rocks.
Joan calls Harry after someone breaks into her apartment in search of a manuscript written by her sister, Andy Ellerman (Beverly D'Angelo). The manuscript contains information that could embarrass Andy's rich, powerful ex-lover, Red Layls (Harry Dean Stanton), but the search was fruitless because
the manuscript, mailed by Andy to Joan, hasn't yet arrived. At the same time, Joan is being menaced by a would-be lover, Eddy Revere (Michael McKean), and bullied by her soon-to-be ex-husband, Lewis Duart (David Clennon), her conductor for an upcoming concert.
When Andy shows up, she's promptly kidnapped by Layls and his sleazy lawyer Laurence Moncrief (Saul Rubinek), who slips Harry a $15,000 check to steal the manuscript from Joan upon its arrival. Instead, Harry, who has fallen in love with Joan, helps her rescue her sister and later foils Eddy's
attempt to force himself on Joan. After Adele throws Harry out, he and Joan live happily ever after with Duke, who has escaped from Harry's ex-partner.
On paper, MAN TROUBLE looks unbeatable. Besides the terrific accumulation of talent in front of the cameras, the film was directed by Bob Rafelson and written by co-producer Carole Eastman--a duo who last collaborated with Nicholson on FIVE EASY PIECES. Given the results, a criminal investigation
more than a review might be in order.
MAN TROUBLE is abysmally amateurish from start to finish, never making any kind of sense on any level at any time during its running time. Its plot is incoherent, its characters idiotic and its stars are completely lacking in chemistry. Nicholson, in particular, fails to get any kind of take on
his character, pushing Harry's slobbishness to unlikely extremes and coming across as genuinely mean-spirited, racially prejudiced and sexist in his scenes with Adele. Opposite Barkin, he seems lost somewhere between romance and farce. At still other times he descends to the kind of broad,
graceless buffoonery that helped make GOIN' SOUTH unwatchable to all but his most diehard fans.
The always graceful Barkin comes closest to saving the film, much as she almost saved SWITCH, with sheer comic finesse. Her character makes even less sense than Nicholson's but, unlike him, Barkin has a true gift for physical comedy that makes her fun to watch--even in scenes where someone thought
it would be a great idea to zoom in tight on her behind when she turned her back on the camera. D'Angelo, another gifted screen comedian, also helps matters during her few short scenes. But apart from its two female leads (and, of course, Duke, a German shepherd with personality to burn), MAN
TROUBLE is mostly an irritating blur of mind-boggling vulgarity.
Eastman's screenplay seems to want to make salient points about female victimization and empowerment. It's awfully hard to take those ideas seriously, though, in a movie that goes for its biggest laughs from a Japanese-American woman with a speech impediment and a Mexican-American maid who spends
most of the day fending off the amorous advances of a dog. (Profanity, adult situations.)
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