ROXANNE Steve Martin, Daryl Hannah, Rick Rossovich, Shelley Duvall. Directed by Fred Schepisi. 1987. PG. (RCA/Columbia cassette, stereo, 107 min., $89.95.)
"Roxanne" is clearly a labor of love in every sense for writer-producer-star Steve Martin. As an updated Cyrano de Bergerac, transposed to a scenic ski resort town in the west, Martin's poetical proboscis, if anything, is so long it becomes surreal.
Martin, along with director Schepisi, has designed a stylized background for his daring conceit. The volunteer fire company he leads is warmed-over Mack Sennett, with such familiar farceurs as Fred Willard and Michael J. Pollard. Martin himself is often rendered in long-shot for his ambitiously Buster Keatonish acrobatics, embellished in close-up by his special brand of manic wit.
Every first-rate love story, of course, must pour some vinegar on its inescapably sweet sentiments.
Rostand succeeded by making his Cyrano an anachronistic Don Quixote in a debased society, Roxanne a dimwitted Dulcinea, and her handsome lover Christian a callow, tongue-tied imbecile. In contrast, Martin displays a sensibility that is much more generously upbeat than Rostand's. He makes Roxanne a serious astronomer, and he provides a happily-ever-after ending not only for his fire chief and Roxanne, but even for the dumb boyfriend.
Martin achieves some interesting visual effects by his contrasts between the grotesqueness of the nose in profile, as opposed to its occasional pathos in full-face. As an overall artist, Martin reminds me of Francois Truffaut in his obsessive intensity with the opposite sex. Consequently, he projects more feeling than one would think possible from an often savage stand-up comedian.
Moreover, Martin's willful vulnerability seems to play somewhat better on videocassette than on the big screen, even though the cramped framing of the video format cuts off some of the impact of Schepisi's intricately fashioned three-character compositions.
Ultimately, this adaptation of Rostand for contemporary audiences is about as culturally respectable an effort as we're ever likely to get. "Roxanne" never lapses into giddy facetiousness or gooey self-pity as it continues the cinematic evolution of an increasingly fascinating talent.