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'Fries': A Lunatic Ruins the Recipe

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 27, 1998

  Movie Critic

Home Fries
A pregnant Drew Barrymore falls in love while working at a drive-through window in "Home Fries." (Warner Bros.)

Dean Parisot
Drew Barrymore;
Luke Wilson;
Catherine O'Hara;
Jake Busey;
Shelly Duvall;
Kim Robillard;
Daryl Mitchell;
Lanny Flaherty
Running Time:
1 hour, 32 minutes
A bit of crude language, murder, attempted murder and mention of private parts in the context of Lamaze class
"Odd" is great. I love "odd." But, like fruit punch laced with turpentine, sometimes "odd" just doesn't cut it.

Such is the case with "Home Fries," a defiantly strange romantic comedy starring Drew Barrymore and Luke Wilson. It's quirky and funny and wonderfully romantic. It's also just a little bit too creepy for its own good.

Sporting dyed red locks and a curly hairdo that makes her look uncannily like a young Susan Sarandon, Barrymore plays unwed mother-to-be Sally Jackson, a very pregnant young woman who hides her swollen belly behind the drive-through window of a rural Burger-Matic fast food joint.

She's not the odd part, though. She's the wonderful part. I don't care what Barrymore does or doesn't do on screen (and here she mostly just smiles beatifically and looks radiantly expectant). The unpretentious actress possesses a naturalness that flows like water.

The comedy comes mostly courtesy of Wilson, who plays goofball love interest Dorian Montier. Dorian, a grown man who still sleeps on matching little-boy baseball-print bed sheets, dresses up in a silly "Buzz Burger-Matic" robot costume when he takes a job at Sally's restaurant. As the sweet misfits get to know each other, they gradually fall in love.

What he doesn't realize yet is that his philandering stepfather Henry (Chris Ellis) is the father of Sally's baby. And what Sally doesn't realize is that Dorian is partially responsible for Henry's recent death.

Now we're getting to the odd part.

In the first few minutes of the film, we see Henry plotz from a heart attack, literally scared to death by an AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter that strafes him as he runs through the woods at night.

Who should be sitting at the controls of the whirlybird than Air National Guard reservists Dorian and his brother Angus (Jake Busey)? Enlisted by their Lady Macbethian mother (the always loopy Catherine O'Hara) to teach her cheating husband a lesson, Dorian and Angus only meant to strike the fear of God into their stepdaddy. How could they know he would lose his heart pills and have a coronary then and there?

Certainly not Dorian, who comes to the conclusion -- albeit a little late in the game -- that the whole prank has gotten a little out of control when he's forced to go back and collect the spent machine-gun shells. Angus on the other hand, having already killed one fornicating weasel, is prepared to finish the job by tracking down the home-wrecking hussy and killing her too.

To recapitulate: Boy meets girl and wants to marry her. Boy's sociopathic brother wants to assassinate same. Is this a recipe for screwball entertainment or what?

The sour ingredient in this order of "Home Fries" is Busey. With the demented eyes and leering grin of a real live maniac, he is just too scary by half to belong here. It's as if Krug (the homicidal ex-Marine heavy that Busey plays in "Enemy of the State") got lost in the multiplex and wandered onto the wrong movie screen.

Wilson and Barrymore do have nice chemistry, and there are plenty of satisfyingly sick laughs in "Home Fries" -- such as a shot of cigarette-plant workers hacking their lungs out while on a smoke break. Still, every time the unhinged Angus enters the frame, it feels like the party's over and someone is really going to get hurt.

Bitter black comedy is not to everyone's taste, nor is it an easy trick to perform, but first-time director Dean Parisot and writer Vince Gilligan are to be congratulated for steering clear of the cliched Hollywood romance, even if it doesn't always work.

It's interesting to note, however, that the disingenuous (or perhaps merely perplexed) marketers at Warner Bros. are trying to sell this movie as if it were a rather conventional romance. You'd never know it from the innocuous-looking trailers that are running in movie theaters, but "Home Fries" is really "When Dorian Met Sally" meets "Psycho."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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