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DROWNING MONA(director: Nick Gomez; screenwriter: Peter Steinfeld; cinematographer: Bruce Douglas Johnson; editor: Richard Pearson; cast: Danny DeVito (Chief Wyatt Rash), Bette Midler (Mona Dearly), Neve Campbell (Ellen Rash), Jamie Lee Curtis (Rona), Casey Affleck (Bobby Calzone), William Fichtner (Phil Dearly), Marcus Thomas (Jeff Dearly), Peter Dobson (Lt. Feege), Tracey Walter (Clarence), Kathleen Wilhoite (Lucinda), Will Ferrel (Cubby), Mark Pellegrino (Murph Calzone); Runtime: 90; Destination Films; 2000)
“It broke down like a Yugo.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Mona Dearly (Bette Midler) is an obese woman with a big mouth and a nasty disposition who is hated by almost everyone in Verplanck, New York, a small-town upstate, where Yugos are built. Locked out of her car, Mona takes her one-handed son Jeff’s (Marcus Thomas) car and drives off an embankment into the river and drowns because the brakes were tampered with. This cartoonish comedy built around a murder mystery, relishes in slapstick comedy and poking fun at the local hicks. It’s basically a one joke movie that goes on in the same vein throughout. Every yokel in town is thought of as either stupid or a shady character. The police chief, Wyatt Rash (Danny Devito), is the straightman to all the comic antics and spends the whole movie looking at different suspects. The question becomes, why should anyone in town care who killed her?

One of the big jokes is the indifferent reaction to Mona’s death.

Mona’s sleazy widower Phil (William Fichtner), none to sadly philosophizes: “Well, it just goes to show — ya snooze, ya lose.” Phil is distinguished by his white trash look, sporting some mean looking mutton-chop sideburns and by his dullness in repartee that is dumber than dumb.

Phil’s mistress is the 33-year-old snappy diner waitress with the teased hair, Rona (Jamie Lee Curtis), whose comment to Phil about Mona’s demise is: “People like us never get so lucky.” She’s also having an affair with Jeff.

Mona’s only child, the idiotic and swinish Jeff, is someone who only wants to know: “What was she doing in my car?”

Ellie (Neve Campbell) is the police chief’s gutsy, adorable daughter and the bride-to-be of Jeff’s naïve but sensitive landscaping business partner Bobby Calzone (Casey Affleck). Ellie’s response to Mona’s death is “Let’s celebrate!” Bobby, on the other hand, only wonders what her father thinks about the accident.

To show how ugly Mona was, her hair is dyed with some wretched white coloring and she is shown in flashback interacting in a hostile way with everyone she comes into contact with. This doomed script and conventional direction venture for Nick Gomez (“New Jersey Drive“/”Laws of Gravity“), results in a comedy that got by with a few mean-spirited jokes. It broke down like a Yugo. It’s a movie that has an attitude problem it couldn’t resolve as easily as it did the mystery to Mona’s death. A solution that it comes up with, by the way, that was hardly believable.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”