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‘Mad Dog and Glory’ (R)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 05, 1993

Robert De Niro exorcises all vestiges of "Cape Fear's" mad Max Cady with a performance that's cuter than pajamas with feet in "Mad Dog and Glory." It's an engaging yet morally dubious comedy that is saved by the strength of its actors.

De Niro is a bashfully rumpled detective, Mad Dog Dobie, who acquires guts and a whore named Glory (Uma Thurman) before the final credits roll. The bottom line: "Pretty Woman" meets Columbo.

Though she considers herself an actress-bartender, Glory is a prostitute in the service of the wiggy Frank Milo (Bill Murray), a loan shark beholden to Dobie for saving his life during a convenience store holdup. Milo, a hoodlum who moonlights as a comedian, insists on repaying the favor, not only with fruit-filled cheesecakes for the boys at the precinct, but with the talking cheesecake who arrives at Dobie's door.

Glory, gangly and girlish, presents herself as Milo's "thank you present, a singing telegram for a week." Not that she does much singing -- she's your standard-issue Hollywood pro, equipped with the customary heart of gold and a good excuse for playing the whore. She's working off the enormous debt her apparently able-bodied brother ran up with Milo. This plot point would have packed more pathos if the brother had borrowed the money for a kidney dialysis machine, but it'll do.

Dobie quickly overcomes any professional or puritanical qualms he might have entertained and allows the coltish charmer to stay on. Glory, who has been ordered to show Dobie a good time or else, soon works her way into the lonely bachelor's bed and then into his heart. When he refers to the interlude as "making love," she is delighted by his courtliness. "You talk like somebody out of the Round Table days," she coos.

Heretofore a gun-shy milquetoast, Dobie does not think of himself as a knight in shining armor. He fantasizes about busting heads and brawling in barrooms the way his fiery Irish American partner Mike (rakish David Caruso) does. But Mad Dog just can't live up to his ferocious nickname. He even has Mike fight Milo's bodyguard Harold (eccentric Mike Starr) when Milo comes to collect his property.

It's the rapport between the two actors, De Niro and Murray, that saves "Mad Dog and Glory" from being something less than just another buddy movie. Their real-life friendship spills over into this jittery, very funny look at the male bonding experience. Thurman, the bone of contention, makes the most of her slight sexual-missionary's role and she too is nicely teamed with De Niro, who is sweetly awkward at the outset of their affair. In any case, he learns to growl.

"Mad Dog and Glory" also benefits from the authentic dialogue penned by Richard Price ("Sea of Love"), who sharpens the script with the argot of the precinct house and the gallows humor of murder investigators. Not that this excuses either the contrived premise or the sophomoric ending, which was added later against director John McNaughton's better instincts.

McNaughton, known for the heinous cult hit, "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer," is not really at home with this quirky material. But he's got the Mad Dog by the tail in the opening scene, an especially raw, drug-related double murder -- a strange beginning considering the froth to come. We're primed for rabies and we get puppy love.

"Mad Dog and Glory" is rated R for language, violence and sex.

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