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'The War of the Roses' : (R)

By Desson Howe
December 08, 1989

IN "The War of the Roses," Danny DeVito's deliciously jaundiced perspective on matrimony (and its apparently imminent sequel, divorce), Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas go head-to-head in the most brutal husband-wife encounter since axe-wielding Jack Nicholson yelled "Heeeeere's Johnny!" to Shelley Duvall in Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining."

The menace here, however, is closer to "The Road Runner" than "redrum," and this couple is far more evenly matched. Douglas, you may remember, strangled Glenn Close in "Fatal Attraction" and trod on the necks of financial wimps in "Wall Street," while Turner hounded husbands to death in "The Man With Two Brains" or just offed them in "Body Heat" and "Prizzi's Honor."

In this third coming together (after "Romancing the Stone" and "The Jewel of the Nile"), they make the malignant equivalent of beautiful music. Turner's a superb comedian who, as Barbara Rose, variously plays sweet wife, sarcastic assassin and murderous vixen; and Douglas, as Oliver Rose, perfectly embodies the angry desperation of a yuppie male with his back against the nuptial wall.

This war of the spouses (featuring DeVito as Douglas's divorce lawyer and the movie's onscreen narrator), starts as a storybook, erotic romance: "Never, never apologize for being multi-orgasmic," gasps Douglas after their initial, rain-soaked encounter. But it soon escalates into an emotional war of attrition. She can't stand his laugh. He can't stand her storytelling. They get fat children.

It won't be long before Turner is driving her enormous pickup over Douglas's prize vintage car (with her husband sitting in it) and Douglas is sawing the heels from her shoes.

"There's no winning in this," attorney DeVito admonishes Douglas. "It's only degrees of losing."

Director DeVito, whose macabre sense of humor gave his otherwise derailed directing debut "Throw Momma from the Train" its share of moments, brings his dark impulses to bear here.

In this he's well-supported by cinematographer Stephen H. Burum, whose wacky perspectives and purposeful garishness set the grim tone perfectly and scriptwriter Michael Leeson (adapting Warren Adler's novel), who creates a world of marital bleakness not only inside but also outside: When Douglas is rushed to hospital for a suspected heart attack, he finds himself lying next to a huge man holding a bloody bandage against his chest. "My wife stabbed me in the stomach," says the patient with alarming resignation. "With a nail file this time. She's training to be a manicurist.

Copyright The Washington Post

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