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'She-Devil' (PG-13)

By Desson Howe
December 08, 1989

"SHE-DEVIL" would seem a cinch for a crackling good time, with screwball-slummer Meryl Streep opposite sitcom slob Roseanne Barr, while director Susan ("Desperately Seeking Susan") Seidelman fans the flames.

It's not a crackling good time.

In fact, the only fire you'll see in "She-Devil" is when housewife Barr, angry at cheating husband Ed Begley Jr., sets the family home alight.

Great! Roseanne the vengeful she-devil torches a house, then burns a trashy, gum-clicking path of woman-scorned destruction through the movie, right? Wrong. In this misadaptation of Fay Weldon's "The Life and Loves of a She-Devil" (scripted by Barry Strugatz and Mark R. Burns), Roseanne is a tubby-duckling whose slow-burning revenge on Begley and extramarital lover Streep turns out to be a meandering waddle towards feminist serenity.

Upon discovering the affair, Barr decides to bring about Begley's ruin. She dumps the kids with Begley, then assembles a network of other Unloved Sisters, which includes Streep's rest-home-cloistered mother Sylvia Miles (whose heavy-handed performance makes you understand why Streep had her put away), nursing orderly Linda Hunt and bimbo-secretary Maria Pitillo. But Barr appears directed to conduct this exercise as soberly as possible.

Meanwhile, at her idyllic palace by the sea, Streep (as successful gothic novelist Mary Fisher) fine-tunes her comic instrument with passing success; she's appropriately prissy, smarmy and self-centered. Squabbling with Begley at one point, she gets on all fours on her bed, waggles her derriere and retorts, "I -- in case you didn't know it, Bob -- am an artist."

But within the misbegotten context of "She-Devil," even Streep's efforts are rendered futile; with a palatial spread, a lap dog, a swimming pool and trim butler-gigolo (A Martinez) at hand, her Fisher of men is little more than a Hollywood-caper cliche.

Seidelman, Strugatz and Burns are so busy systematically constructing Barr's revenge and keeping her smugly vindicated, they fail to realize they've bulldozed all comical landmarks in sight. So it ultimately doesn't matter whether or not Streep is redeemed, Barr is vindicated, Begley is punished -- or whether or not they all go to hell in a handbasket. They're all buried under the rubble

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