Oh, what a difference a Coen brother makes. Or rather, the lack thereof.
More than anything, "Home Fries" wants to be a black comedy in the vein
of "Fargo" or "Raising Arizona," but the film lacks Joel and Ethan Coen
and their skewed sensibilities. The result is a strained, pedestrian
effort that fires off all its rockets, but never attains escape velocity.
Despite some nice moments, "Home Fries" remains a flat little curiosity.
Set in Texas, the story revolves around Sally (Drew Barrymore), a sweet,
sad, very pregnant fast-food cashier at the Burger-Matic. While taking
drive-through orders one night, she picks up some strange chatter over
her headset. In fact, she is listening to brothers Angus (Jake Busey) and
Dorian (Luke Wilson) who, at the behest of their mother (Catherine
O'Hara), are piloting a helicopter in an attempt to scare the bejesus out
of their philandering stepfather. The stunt works all too well - - Dad
has a heart-attack and dies.
The fatality leaves Mom quite annoyed and the boys very worried: they
also heard Sally over their headsets and have no idea how much she knows.
So Dorian takes a job at the burger joint to do some reconnaissance work.
At this point, you surely can figure out the rest. The dead stepfather is,
of course, the father of Sally's unborn child. Sally, of course, broke
things off as soon as she found out he was married and Dorian, of course,
is destined to fall in love with the comely lass.
Some scenes in "Home Fries" work. When authorities find the corpse
sitting upright in the middle of nowhere, one cop has his picture taken
with the body ("I'll go to Hell for this," he chuckles, "but I can't
resist"). A hostage situation involving Sally's drunk, shotgun-wielding
hillbilly pappy degenerates into a family squabble that achieves a
certain Jerry Springer-style absurdist comic rhythm. Unfortunately, these
are rare successful moments in a black comedy that too often is merely
Director Dean Parisot simply lacks the skills to mix irreverent humor and
a traditional romance. His production feels as half-baked as the romance
between Sally and Dorian is unconvincing. Never for a moment do you sense
any chemistry between the two characters. Luke Wilson, who looks a lot
like Freddie Prinze Jr. with lockjaw, projects a sincere, mildly dazed
charm, and, as always, the angelic Drew Barrymore is sweet as can be, but
their characters behave as if they are in two separate movies.
Catherine O'Hara, as the vengeance-obsessed widow, and Jake Busey, as a
psychotic mama's boy, are more effective, but both suffer from incomplete
story arcs. Just as their characters near the point in the film where
their mayhem should reach its manic climax, things wrap up abruptly,
snuffing the comic payoff. I've no idea whether the choppy resolution of
their stories is the result of sloppy writing or poor editing, but the
unfinished feel is quite frustrating.
Frustrating is the best overall word for "Home Fries." You know what the
filmmakers were shooting for, and, every so often, they actually hit
their target. But the many near-misses and overall tepid feel just made
me want to slap a Coen brothers movie in the VCR and watch how the big
boys do black comedy.
Copyright © 1998 Edward Johnson-Ott