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‘Other People’s Money’ (R)By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 18, 1991
"Other People's Money" is all Danny DeVito. A ruthless corporate raider par excellence, he's America's greedy id unleashed.
Norman Jewison's adaptation of Jerry Sterner's off-Broadway play is about the piggy excesses of the 1980s, the collective lust of the Boeskys, Trumps and Milkens. It's nothing more than Hollywood satiric junk food. But it's an enjoyably, cartoonish sweet-and-sour fest -- with emphasis on sour.
DeVito has done this nasty-man shtick before, in everything from the "Taxi" TV series to "The War of the Roses." Somehow he makes it fun to watch every time.
Talking directly to the camera, the pint-sized rogue declares his three loves: doughnuts, dogs and money. But money, he says, doesn't make you fat. Nor does it poop all over the living room floor. There's something even better than money, he adds. Hence the title.
In "Money," he reaches every morning for the woman in his life, "Carmen" the computer. One day it tells him about New England Wire & Cable Co. Its shares are on the rise. Its debt slate is clean. It's prime raiding material. The Rhode Island concern is run by stalwart yankee Gregory Peck. He and wife Piper Laurie are anathema to everything DeVito stands for. They're proud, Capraesque, New England stock. Peck cares about the family business. He worries about the workers. He's riddled with integrity. Peck refuses DeVito's initial offer, saying it would be suicide for his company.
"Don't think of it as suicide," DeVito suggests. "Think of it as euthanasia."
Something even more promising than New England Cable shows up: Peck's daughter, Penelope Ann Miller. When her parents appeal for help, New York attorney Miller decides to take on DeVito. She's a formidable challenger. She also shares DeVito's guilty pleasure for The Game. The little raider finds himself feeling something deeper than greed. More greed! With love mixed in, of course. His life is transformed. He sends flowers (and doughnuts) as they lock capitalistic mandibles. He begs her to dinner while his attorneys pull the rug from under the company.
The protracted love-and-money battle reaches its zenith at New England Cable's annual stockholder meeting, when Peck and DeVito make their respective appeals for the soul of the company. There's a great face-off between Peck's industrial America sentimentality and DeVito's naked greed practicality.
What would be "murder" in the real world, intones Peck, is called "maximizing shareholder value" in DeVito's. "In his wake lies nothing but a blizzard of paper to cover the pain."
To initial hisses and boos, DeVito turns the crowd around. He dismantles Peck's romantic speech and appeals rather eloquently to the shareholders' deep-seated greed. His rap, which faintly echoes Michael Douglas's greed-is-good sermon in "Wall Street," is as winning as Peck's. The movie's ending, a departure from the play, is abrupt and unexpected. On the one hand, it's a Hollywood everyone-benefits resolution. But on the other, DeVito never backs down. He remains the lovable, little pig he always was -- and will continue to be.
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