Film Reviews

Antonio Times Two

Double your pleasure, double your fun -- Antonio Banderas, the sexiest man in movies today, plays two roles, sort of. As Rock Hudson did in Pillow Talk, or any number of comedies produced by the late Ross Hunter, in the new Two Much, Banderas plays a guy who pretends to be two people. We all know the plot: a hunk in pursuit of a love object indulges in what is, in fact, craven, potentially soul-destroying deceit. And then the fun begins.

Writer/director Fernando Trueba gives us split-screen phone conversations, frisky bits from fabulous character actors and unlikely romance -- the whole deal. And just as Rock Hudson was a credible stud muffin despite his being homosexual, Antonio Banderas is a credible stud muffin despite his association with Melanie Griffith, and we root for the misguided Lothario, even as we laugh at his amoral high jinks.

Banderas' Art Dodge, an unsuccessful gallery owner, survives by scanning the obituary pages. When he reads of a deceased rich man, he shows up at his house with some abstract paintings that, Art tells the widow, the late husband ordered just the week before. This scam is keeping his gallery afloat -- barely -- but of course, Art makes a mistake. He shows up at the house of a reputed mob boss on the very day of the funeral, and the gangster's number one son, Gene (Danny Aiello), sics a couple of goons on him. Art makes his escape by diving into the back seat of a Rolls that, surprise, belongs to Betty Kerner (Melanie Griffith), Gene's ex-wife. Betty and Art go for a lovely drive in lovely Miami, and the heiress falls in love. Then they go to her fabulous mansion, and Art falls in love E with Betty's sister, Liz (Daryl Hannah).

Dodging both Gene and various creditors, and after meeting Liz, Art decides it would be a good idea to have another identity. So he creates a twin brother, Bart. Where Art is a laid-back, low-key art dealer with a ponytail, Bart is a moody loner who wears glasses and leaves his hair down. Because this is the '90s, and because filmmakers know what the women in the audience want, this dual persona shtick involves much changing of shirts and plenty of Banderas running back and forth in his boxer shorts. (In Pillow Talk, Rock Hudson just put on a hat.) And also because this is the '90s, the topical humor is about Melanie Griffith.

While the majority of the film has the gloss of a Ross Hunter production, Griffith's role seems to be reality-based. She plays an Absolut-drinking, not-too-bright flake who's been married twice to the same man and who now wants to wed Art/Antonio. Art's balking, but then Liz explains that Betty isn't stable enough to take rejection. Hmm.

It gets better. While rambling on about wedding plans, Betty explains that she's chosen the third as the day to get married "because this is my third wedding, I'm 33 E," an assertion that met with roaring laughter at a recent screening. (A woman near me muttered, "Yeah, in your dreams.") One wonders how Griffith was talked into doing this. In any case, the character works for Gossip Show fans and as a general floozy.

Betty and her sister Liz are key characters, but Trueba doesn't waste much screen time with them. In quick scenes at the Kerner mansion, Betty lolls poolside, fending off Gene's continued affection and threatening Art. Liz lolls poolside, too, carping at Art and being wooed by Bart. And of course there's Banderas, scrambling around trying to maintain the twin fiction -- falling in swimming pools, narrowly missing falling in swimming pools and having trouble with a sommelier. But what gives Two Much its real charm is the character actors. Without them, Two Much would be an episode of Melrose Place played for laughs.

The best of the supporting characters is Joan Cusack, who ate Melanie Griffith's lunch in Working Girl. She gets the movie's biggest laughs, and frequently she gets them by merely raising an eyebrow. She's Gloria Fletcher, Art's stoic gallery assistant. She cracks wise, offers wisdom and lights up the screen with her squinch-eyed smile. Her smile is not a leading lady smile -- this is the wry, seen-it-all smile of the loyal secretary, the spinster aunt, the eccentric next-door neighbor, and we need more of them in the movies. Trueba even has Cusack in most of the split-screen phone conversations, the witty assistant helping Art/Bart maintain the ruse even while chiding her boss for his misconduct.

Cusack has only a few scenes with the film's other supporting star, Eli Wallach, which is just as well. If they were together any more often, they might have ended up taking over the movie completely. Wallach is Art's crotchety father, Sheldon Dodge, and he has a fine time exploiting his possible dementia and running wild with his cronies. In one of the best chase scenes of the year, Sheldon and his poker buddies help Art escape Gene's goons. Sheldon, of course, can't drive his son's classic Mustang. Stripping gears all the way, a sports car full of old guys in windbreakers sing bawdy songs, insult each other and achieve a light-hearted, high-spirited camaraderie that most recent guy films have failed to capture.

Gems such as the old man antics make Two Much sparkle, but it's a gaudy sparkle. Trueba says he was inspired by the comedies of Preston Sturges and Billy Wilder, but their screwball comedies had a social conscience. Trueba's Art/Bart is sleeping with both sisters, which is, in fact, sick, and if Trueba was trying to present any real message, the film would fail. Luckily, Trueba's only message is, hey, enjoy this. And because he has winning character actors, a nifty pace and Antonio Banderas, the message gets across.

Two Much. Directed by Fernando Trueba. With Antonio Banderas, Joan Cusack, Melanie Griffith, Daryl Hannah, Danny Aiello and Eli Wallach. Rated PG-13. 118 minutes.

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Edith Sorenson