One way or another "Easy Money" is likely to become money in the bank for Rodney Dangerfield as he approaches Social Security age. Now at area theaters, this shrewdly fabricated, diverting screwball throwback to conventional domestic farce would appear to have Crowd Pleaser written all over its crookedly grinning mug. If, for some inexplicable reason, "Easy Money" should fail to rake it in at the box office and inspire a series of movie comedies exploiting the misadventures of Dangerfield's character, the whole kit and caboodle could take up popular residence on television.
Dangerfield is an incorrigibly reactionary family man named Monty Capuletti, a baby photographer from Staten Island, who indeed may be peculiarly qualified to rally the Archie Bunker audience to an obdurate new model of resistance against progressive masculine role models. Unless I miss my guess, he represents the latest facetious line of resistance against the sanctimonious image of New Men embodied most publicly by Phil Donahue and Alan Alda.
While the Archies and Montys are clearly fighting a losing battle, even within the confines of their own families, they nevertheless express something perceived by both men and women as sneakily amusing and stereotypically authentic--a preference for slobby, irresponsible forms of recreation and patterns of thought that naturally conflict with the socializing and civilizing needs of their womenfolk but nevertheless provide a trustworthy, clear-cut source of opposition, conflict and sexual differentiation.
"Easy Money" is essentially a shaggy-dog mother-in-law joke spun out zestfully and more or less skillfully to feature length. Monty is regarded, not without considerable justification, as a human offense by his wealthy mother-in-law, Mrs. Monahan, a department store magnate played by Geraldine Fitzgerald, cast too close to the type she impersonated in "Arthur." (That movie also supplied "Easy Money" with a fine cinematographer, Fred Schuler, and more than a few derivative angles.) She contrives to reform this aging but carousing eyesore of a son-in-law beyond her grave, leaving a will that makes the Capulettis' inheritance contingent on Monty spurning all his vices for a year. After introducing us to the pleasure-loving, disreputable Monty and his immediate circle of family and cronies, the screenplay depicts Monty's arduous, slapstick-prone efforts to sustain enough will power to satisfy Mrs. Monahan's will.
While far from a pinnacle of humorous achievement, "Easy Money" demonstrates a flair for comic tailoring and fooling around that displays Dangerfield and most of the other principal cast members to amusing advantage. Even Dangerfield's potentially nerve-racking twitchiness is finessed in "Easy Money" by a variety of alert, flattering subterfuges.
Dangerfield is surrounded by clever and distinctive coplayers, notably Joe Pesci as Monty's best pal Nicky Cerone, a bachelor plumber. Building on his triumph in "Raging Bull" as Robert De Niro's brother, Pesci once again ingratiates himself by balancing an excitable personality. Nicky also has a hotheaded streak, and it erupts hilariously during a sequence at the track after he's been victimized by the most outrageously crooked race since the classic fix staged for "So This Is New York."
Director James Signorelli, who directed the parody commercials on "Saturday Night Live" for several years, makes a lively feature debut on "Easy Money." He shows a considerable aptitude for sight gags, beginning with a choice set of contrasted "bumping" episodes in the early stages, and an even more promising assurance with comic acting. The movie accommodates a good deal of funny stuff designed to supplement Dangerfield's brusque comedy style and Monty's madcap behavior. There are excellent performances from Candy Azzara as the inexplicably sweet and serene Mrs. Capuletti (she can't get these traits from her mother or profit much from them married to Monty . . . ), Jennifer Jason Leigh and Lili Haydn as the Capuletti daughters (a naive sexpot and a savvy kid sister), Jeff Altman as a chatterbox new neighbor, Tom Ewell as Mrs. Monahan's attorney, Jeffrey Jones as the conniving corporate slickie of a relative who loses most if Monty succeeds, and Taylor Negron as the older daughter's Puerto Rican bridegroom, Julio, who recalls a Warner Bros. cartoon matador and spends the subplot grimly struggling to overcome her numbskull shyness.
In fact, this subplot is probably the nuttiest element in the script Dangerfield whipped up with Michael Endler, P.J. O'Rourke and Dennis Blair (who makes a brief, funny appearance as a terminally neglected hospital patient). It remains a tantalizing mystery what brought this peculiar ethnic convergence about in the first place. Both parties seem to be laboring under stupefying romantic misconceptions, but this is a prospect that somehow tickles the writers, who tend to treat obliviousness as a kind of First Principle, one of the things that makes the world go round and life tolerable.
Several aspects of the script remain to be effectively integrated, including the character of Mrs. Monahan, who ultimately cries out to be resurrected as the constant thorn in Monty's side. Still, one of the peculiar attractions of "Easy Money" is that it's suggestive enough to keep you amused even as it takes goofy, capricious detours. It's not what you'd call a classic or a class comedy act, but it has the kick of an embryonic pop phenomenon. EASY MONEY
Directed by James Signorelli; screenplay by Rodney Dangerfield, Michael Endler, P.J. O'Rourke, Dennis Blair; director of photography, Fred Schuler; production designer, Eugene Lee; edited by Ronald Roose; music by Laurence Rosenthal; produced by John Nicolella. Presented by Orion Pictures Corp. Rated R. THE CAST Monty Capuletti . . . Rodney Dangerfield
Nicky Cerone . . . Joe Pesci
Mrs. Monahan . . . Geraldine Fitzgerald
Rose Capuletti . . . Candy Azzara