Thursday, May 15, 2008

How the Cookie Crumbles: The Fortune Cookie

Billy Wilder is one of the best directors of all time, and his films like The Lost Weekend, Some Like it Hot, and The Apartment were a joy to watch. The writing was crisp and witty, the acting was tremendous. And for one thing, Wilder knew his playing field. The Fortune Cookie is a somewhat composed jumble of elements that make a good Wilder film and junk that is totally unnecessary. This movie is basic: Jack Lemon plays Harry Hinkle, a Cleveland Browns cameraman who is injured by a collision with Luther "Boom Boom" Jackson (Ron Rich), a punt returner. The collision is about as low-quality as collisions get: you can just see the choreography when Lemmon throws the camera, runs backwards, falls over a tarp, and collapses, then stands up again, then collapses again. It is extremely clunky, and is done by someone who has obviously a rough time with broad slapstick. Anyways, he gets hospitalized (he only has a mild concussion). Enter Walter Matthau as Hinkle's brother-in-law "Whiplash" Willie, who wants to make some money off of Hinkle's injury. So he proposes that Hinkle, having only a mild concussion, fake that he is paralyzed, so Willie can sue the Browns for $1,000,000. This lawsuit becomes plausible after Harry (on sedatives) takes a test inspection from the Browns' doctors. But the Browns don't want to be sued, and they send in surveillance to try to find evidence that this is a scheme. These surveillance guys, played by Cliff Osmond and Noam Pitlik, are the best part of the movie. Now to the backstory: Boom Boom feels bad about "injuring" Hinkle, so he takes care of him. This is utterly depressing, because Boom Boom is such a nice guy, and you wish Hinkle would just tell him. It's so utterly depressing, it ruins the movie-watching experience, as it sometimes falls into the deep end of emotional schmaltz and dark comedy. Now, the acting: Lemmon is okay, trying to stay afloat, Matthau won an undeserved Oscar for his perfomance, Judi West as Hinkle's wife Sandy is okay, and Rich as Boom Boom is pretty good. A negative: there are overly used tones of sexism and racism that are possibly offensive. Plus, the scheme is highly implausible, and it has a terribly unrealistic scene where Matthau somehow gets the Browns to keep settling for higher and higher amounts of money. Bottom line: this movie which sparked The Odd Couple doesn't have the charisma to be a great Wilder film, it doesn't have the quirkiness to be a Lemmon cult classic, and it has too much sloppy piecing to be even a very good film. B

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