The fact that the talented and charming writer/director George Gallo is behind this overwhelming mess of a film is mind boggling to me. Just last year, he impressed Arizona theatre chain owner Dan Harkins enough to grant Gallo Scottsdale, Arizona’s biggest art-house screen where he routinely packed in audience members for his self-financed, genuinely touching, semi-autobiographical and refreshingly nostalgic Local Color, which had nary a trace of cynicism. It’s a film incidentally one still can’t track down in a theatre or a video store nearly a year later; instead our local video chains were just filled with Gallo's direct-to-disc clunker usurped by the star power of Meg Ryan and Antonio Banderas entitled My Mom’s New Boyfriend. In need of a mindless laugh, it looked like harmless Sunday night fare and although it began to reek of disaster in the opening minutes as we encountered Meg Ryan in a fat suit falling down on a front lawn-- tired from the dog days of blistering 115 degree Phoenix heat-- I left it in my disc player and was utterly shocked that instead of a frat pack comedy director’s name ending up in the final credits, I was faced with none other than the name George Gallo.
Yes, he’s the same man who crafted the disastrous Trapped in Paradise which, despite possibly only causing one or two genuine laughs, earned back one single, valuable credibility point for a terrifically ingenious premise of crooks stuck in a Capraesque town after committing a robbery with no hope of escape, but Midnight Run is one of my favorite buddy action movies of the 80’s. “The Duke.” “Moscone Bail Bonds.” “Marvin!” Not to mention Joe Pants, Dennis Farina plus a wonderful gag involving sunglasses and filled with great one-liners, more f-bombs than one could count and dare-I-say a surprisingly sexy, mischievous young Robert DeNiro who became infinitely funnier by association with Charles Grodin as they all meshed together to make a terrific overlooked gem that my brother and I watched far too many times than we should probably admit in our childhood.
But when we fall, we fall hard and it’s a cruel twist of Hollywood fate that junk like Boyfriend gets a major release because of the name stars and something as heartwarming as Local Color is left in the dust—flipsides of the same coin that is George Gallo and proof of his range and the fact that, when he damn well wants, he can make one amazingly moving film, and when he’s not as motivated or overdue for a quick paycheck, he can phone it in just as easily. And hey, given our questionable economic climate and the fact that these stimulus checks barely cover a few tanks of gas, there’s no moral judgment on Gallo, but I do wish that at least half the amount of people taking home Boyfriend would’ve been able to at least view Color.
Similar to the action comedy Midnight Run Gallo penned which I grew up with, DVDTown writer James Plath noted that Gallo too called on the comedic capers and romantic action films of his own youth by creating an uneven hybrid of The Pink Panther and To Catch a Thief for My Mom’s New Boyfriend. Instead of packing her son up for college, as the film opens the overweight (cue the questionably tasteless fat suit), perpetually junk food eating, soda drinking and cigarette smoking clingy mother Martha Durand (Meg Ryan) bids her ambitious, devoted son Henry (Tom’s son Colin Hanks) farewell for his new, top secret work with the F.B.I. Having lost a husband who’d perished in jail—our first clue that ol’ Martha likes herself a bad boy—she’s devastated to lose her surrogate “man,” but even more shocked when she’s mistaken for a bum by a passerby so, urged to change her ways and make a second start, she makes a fortune in stocks, slims down to a sexy model stature from her two-hundred fifty plus pound size, buys herself some silicone implants, and renames herself Marty.
Ditching her old frumpy Martha persona, the choice of a masculine name for our leading lady isn’t lost on astute viewers as Henry returns three years later to discover his mom is acting like a twentysomething frat-boy gone wild-- bed and motorcycle hopping at will, with an Italian chef serenading her nightly on her front lawn to dating a boy who drinks milk straight from the carton and leaves Marty’s place just in time to make it to his finals. This isn’t quite as amusing as it sounds as Ryan’s Marty is less a Desperate Housewives styled cougar and more like an over-the-hill desperate club girl—the type who never turns down a drink and is the first on the dance floor whether or not music is playing. Ryan deserves better than this-- to have us laughing with her discovery of her new sexual liberty rather than at her newfound uninspired horniness.
Predictably, Henry's alarmed to discover this new version of Marty as basically a one-dimensional Cosmopolitan Magazine cover come to life and it throws their relationship completely out of whack when not only Henry introduces his mom to his F.B.I. psychological profiling colleague fiancé Emily (Selma Blair) but soon after, Marty meets cute with an ultimate bad-boy in the form of mysterious, probable international art thief Tommy (Antonio Banderas). For simply the sake of the preposterous plot instead of any actual logic, Henry is assigned the task of staking out his mother without her knowledge, bugging her home and keeping tabs on her new love.
Predictably the “ick” factor is incorporated rather quickly when Marty and Tommy take their relationship from the streets to the sheets in a scene that has not only ruined the children’s nursery rhyme “Itsy Bitsy Spider” for me for all of eternity but also seemed particularly creepy when one realizes the fact that Ryan was so well-matched romantically with Colin’s father Tom Hanks in movies of the past that in an alternate bizarro universe of “movie characters,” she darn near seems like she could possibly be his mother, had Ryan and Hanks ever taken their “happily ever after” off the screen and into real life following their monumental celluloid successes.
While on paper, I admire Gallo’s truly original idea and the desire to bring back the old caper comedies of the past like How to Steal a Million, Charade and his other two aforementioned beloved works and the actors all put a great deal of energy into selling this obviously rushed and slapped together B movie, the final act is so ludicrous that it defies all not only law enforcement logic but movie plot logic when—without any hinting—a convenient plot device just falls out of the sky and everything is patched together in a warped deus ex machine that Gallo would never have gotten away with in any Introduction to Screenwriting classroom worth not just the cost of tuition but the cost of a pen.
And although normally I would never be this harsh on a mindless trifle, I have immense respect for what Gallo is capable of in not just the highly entertaining “caper comedy” he penned in my youth but also the lovely Local Color. Thus, I wish that he’d spent more time viewing the films from his childhood to keep their spirit alive to hopefully-- speaking as a girl who felt the same way about Midnight Run that he felt about Pink Panther-- possibly engage another kid to create a quality caper comedy when they turn to filmmaking as well. And who knows? Perhaps next time fat suits won’t even enter the equation.