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'Outrageous Fortune' (R)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
January 30, 1987

"Outrageous Fortune" marks a motion picture milestone -- for the first time in action adventuring, the lead breaks a fingernail. It stops her for a moment, like a flesh wound, but she goes on to scrabble up the mesa in time to get her man.

While other heroines tag along with Indiana and Croc, "Fortune" smiles on the precedent-setting teamwork of comediennes Bette Midler and Shelley Long, the first female buddies ever to match wits with the CIA and the KGB and the no-good lout who done 'em wrong. They make a colossally madcap mismatch -- natural adversaries who become best pals as they pursue their two-timing lover (Peter Coyote) from Manhattan to New Mexico. High-speed hijinks in high heels ensue.

The chase begins in Harlem (they've promised a glowering cabbie $200 just to take them there), where a worried Long notices there are no white people on the streets. "There's one . . . oops, they got him," taunts Midler.

The pratfalls become even more death-defying when biological cycles make one of our heroines real cranky. PMS Rambo is unleashed, and the battle of the sexes intensifies. Westward ho, the women track down the wily Coyote in a whorehouse, recognizing his lusty love calls through the door. Their illusions shattered and their friendship forged, they soon figure a way to avenge themselves -- preferably by pulling his face off.

"Fortune" is every bit as rude and wonderful as "Ruthless People," the second of Midler's three dirty, ditzy comedies for Disney. The Divine Ms. M works a variation on her tough tootsie as a tacky, sharp-tongued starlet whose last movie was "Ninja Vixens." She revamps Sophie Tucker's delivery and revs Mae West's languor up to Mach speed. All that plus the Midler wiggle -- like Jell-O in a pantyhose mold. Lewd and low-down, she's a natural counterpoint to Long's perfect parody of Ivy League snootiness, a goofy expansion of the Diane character that endeared her to "Cheers" fans.

The pair become instant enemies as students of the reknowned Russian acting coach Stanislav Korzenowski (Robert Prosky). They form a temporary truce to track down Coyote when they find they've been man-ipulated by the completely captivating undercover Casanova. Before this spy story is done, the heroines will have come a long way, baby: Bonding, they learn, is better without a Bond.

But debuting screenwriter Leslie Dixon is no propagandist. She's a screwball feminist, penning her rough-and-rowdy girl talk in familiar patterns inspired by her role models Preston Sturges and Billy Wilder. And veteran Arthur Hiller, who directed Peter Falk and Alan Arkin in "The In-Laws" and Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder in "Silver Streak," proves equally adept at managing a female odd couple.

Copyright The Washington Post

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