THE WAR OF THE ROSES
R, 1989, 116 minutes, closed-captioned,
CBS/Fox Video, $89.98.
"The War of the Roses" is yuppie Armageddon, an explosion of empty values and curdled peevishness that blows up a marriage and blasts a decade. Under director Danny DeVito's evil eye, a blushing comedic romance becomes a rarefied bedroom Gothic, as black as a witch's mood. In this unflinching adaptation of Warren Adler's novel, DeVito happily turns the boy-meets-girl genre into a squashed bonbon. "The War's" combatants are Oliver Rose (Michael Douglas), a disapproving husband, and Barbara (Kathleen Turner), his once-acquiescent wife, whose sudden search for her own identity threatens his control over their marriage of 17 years. As the Roses' love withers, the gorgeous house that he paid for and she restored becomes their irreconcilable difference. When neither will move out, the house beautiful becomes a nightmare on Elm Street. Always right even when he's wrong, Oliver ushers in the fall of the house of Roses -- a long tumble that progresses from petty pranks to sexual sadism, narrated by DeVito, as the lawyer who handled the divorce. Michael Lesson scripted this ruthlessly witty, world-weary look at the anatomy of a marriage. After a decade of role-swapping and sensitivity training, it shows the battle of the sexes newly raging. Only eight years ago, Tootsie walked a mile in pantyhose. Now, it's toot-toot-tootsie goodbye. -- Rita Kempley
WE'RE NO ANGELS
PG-13, 1989, 110 minutes,
Paramount Home Video, $91.95.
Only a top-of-the-line Hollywood affair could squander as much big-name talent as is wasted in "We're No Angels." Everyone associated with the film -- actors Robert De Niro and Sean Penn, screenwriter David Mamet, director Neil Jordan, cinematographer Philippe Rousselot -- brings respectable credentials to the project, but it's inconceivable that any of them could be happy with the results. Not always, it seems, does talent count for something. If we were inclined to be positive, we could say at least that the stars look fit, that Jordan brings some muscularity to his direction (especially in the opening scenes) and that Rousselot's images have an uncanny, crystalline beauty. But that's it, that's all, that's the whole show. The film, which bears scant resemblance to the 1955 Humphrey Bogart picture of the same name, seems to wobble somewhere between a star frolic -- an homage to frivolous Hollywood escapism -- and something with more bite, something more serious, something, well, worthy of having David Mamet's name attached to it. But this "We're No Angels" isn't funny and it isn't smart -- it's a dumb show, almost literally, in fact. So few lines have been written for these actors that you almost believe the script intentionally parodies their renowned inarticulateness. It's like being trapped in some Method hell. -- Hal Hinson
PG-13, 1989, 109 minutes,
Touchstone Home Video, $89.95.
Insinuating moniker aside, "Gross Anatomy" aims to be a thoughtful dramedy about five dissimilar med students who learn teamwork while dissecting their cadaver. That's where the cutting up comes in. Matthew Modine stars as cocky Joe, the most promising of the quintet, a melting potpourri of the privileged (Daphne Zuniga), the pregnant (Alice Carter), the toadying (John Scott Clough) and the amphetamine-abusing (Todd Field). Christine Lahti, as their dedicated gross anatomy professor, goads the rookies toward their goals. Despite his arrogance and insensitivity to the sick and dying, Joe excites the professor's interest with his quick mind. Determined to make a healer of this Hippocratic oaf, she pushes him to the limit. Laura, played by Zuniga, is drawn to the self-absorbed wisecracker as they snip away at their class project. At first she resists his charms, but this is a movie and the script calls for it, so she gives in. Because of Joe's immaturity, his relationships quickly fail. Director Tom Eberhardt of "Without a Clue" gives everything equal dramatic weight; a rush to deliver a coed's baby seems only slightly more urgent than ordering a pizza. Push, breathe and hold the anchovies. -- Rita Kempley